Summer Vertigo

by Kieran Healy on June 7, 2005

Summer Vertigo is the counterpart to Winter Regret, the Christmastime feeling that produces lists of Books I Did Not Read This Year. At the beginning of the Summer break, teaching is done and it seems like there’s a bunch of free time open for you to tackle, oh, well just about any number of projects. Projects fall into three categories:

  1. Stuff you should be finished with already.
  2. Stuff that’s been on the back-burner for a while, but is doable now you have some time.
  3. Fantasy projects that share many of the characteristics of black holes.

Category (1) stuff is the most irritating, because it feels like a continuation of what you’ve been doing all year. This breeds resentment, which inhibits productivity. Category (2) stuff is the most promising, as the groundwork has already been laid some other time, and really it would just take a decent push to generate something tangible, like a couple of new papers. However, things in this category are never as attractive as things in Category (3). These are really easy to come up with, and are guaranteed to fail over the time you have available. Examples include: Learn French. Learn Bayesian statistics. (Presupposes learning matrix algebra properly.) Read Piero Sraffa’s early papers. (Implies reading lots of classical economics.) Reread (and this time write notes about) Identity and Control and Markets from Networks. Read a lot of Bourdieu.

And that’s just a small sample of those Category 3 items that are related to my work. There’s also things like reading West-Eberhard’s Developmental Plasticity and Evolution or any number of other books. Let alone any fiction. That’s when I begin to think that what I really need is a way to upload substantial parts of the brains of, say, Brad DeLong or Cosma Shalizi into my own. None of this even broaches subjects like getting my Ellsworth Truth put back together and out on the trail. I feel ill.

{ 21 comments }

1

lacker 06.08.05 at 12:52 am

I keep intending to add a second page to my website, but somehow I never get around to it.

2

Sean 06.08.05 at 1:26 am

Actually, I’m trying to learn (more) about black holes, specifically in the context of string theory. A project which is both about black holes, and shares many characteristics of black holes.

Is there already a word for that, or do we need a neologism?

3

Chris Bertram 06.08.05 at 1:37 am

Just don’t download the part of Brad DeLong’s brain that deals with modern German literature! ;)

4

John Quiggin 06.08.05 at 2:18 am

I think you can bypass most of matrix algebra and still get on top of what’s important in Bayesian statistics.

5

John Quiggin 06.08.05 at 2:20 am

The Ellsworth truth link is broken, I think

6

Doug 06.08.05 at 4:27 am

In category (1): Get the laptop to talk to the large backup drive; 2004 profit & loss statement; translations that the editors want yesterday. Category (2) is mostly sending bills to people I’ve done work for. Somewhere in the region between (2) and (3) is finish reading the books in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung’s list of 50 great 20th century novels. I’m down to about 15 to go, though this includes some of the longer ones. Again on the 2/3 border is climbing the Watzmann. It’s accessible, and not too hard with a little planning, and has been on the list for a couple of seasons, but never quite happened. Definitely in category (3) are getting closer to fluent in Polish; starting to learn Turkish; writing a bunch of book reviews for the blog; learn InDesign before the clients do; biking in southeast Poland; organizing a meet-up for the group blog; reading a bunch of Patrick O’Brian; putting together a book proposal or two; making notes for an exegesis of Little, Big; and, oh yes, taking a vacation this summer.

7

rjw 06.08.05 at 6:25 am

This post jolted me. I speak French, spend too much time thinking about eigenvalues, and have an interest in Sraffa and Neo-Ricardian economics. I think I’m going to check into a clinic.

8

Eszter 06.08.05 at 7:15 am

My unmanageably ambitious summer project is to stop having unmanageably ambitious summer projects.

9

Maria 06.08.05 at 7:18 am

My projects are all dull mba related ones that will stop me from reading any interesting books: 1)learn how to use Excel, 2)re-take decision sciences exam as failed miserably first time round – learning excel may help with this, 3)read text book on finance to try and avoid failing finance exams next year.

And they say education broadens the mind.

10

tina 06.08.05 at 7:48 am

I have to figure out a way to spend less time researching and more time publishing articles. Any advice?

11

dsquared 06.08.05 at 8:04 am

I think Kieran wants to learn Bayesian econometrics rather than Bayesian statistics, which does require one to be able to chuck around a bit of LA. I can only pass on my tip; there is an easy way and a hard way to learn linear algebra and the easy way doesn’t work.

12

Kieran Healy 06.08.05 at 8:13 am

there is an easy way and a hard way to learn linear algebra and the easy way doesn’t work.

Yeah, I know. I already tried the easy way.

13

smartass 06.08.05 at 8:20 am

I have to figure out a way to spend less time researching and more time publishing articles. Any advice?

I’m sure any such way starts with not reading blogs like this…

14

dsquared 06.08.05 at 9:09 am

The trouble is that whenever one sets out on a project like mastering linear algebra, you want it to be as easy and straightforward as long division, forgetting that the way that you actually learnt long division was to spend two years of your life doing problem sets for three hours a day while being beaten.

15

Bill Gardner 06.08.05 at 9:11 am

Do the linear algebra. Practical stuff: brews coffee, fixes cars, and is 99% of the math a social scientist ever needs.

16

Kieran Healy 06.08.05 at 9:42 am

forgetting that the way that you actually learnt long division

You’re exactly right. It’s doing the problem sets (over and over) that makes you learn it, and this is what you’re least likely to do if you’re trying the self-teaching route. I should probably just take a lower-division undergraduate course from the Math department.

17

Bill Gardner 06.08.05 at 9:55 am

It’s doing the problem sets (over and over) that makes you learn it, and this is what you’re least likely to do if you’re trying the self-teaching route. I should probably just take a lower-division undergraduate course from the Math department.

Right.

And maybe do it now? It gets very hard to justify these kinds of investments when you are 50+…

18

Jacob T. Levy 06.08.05 at 10:27 am

sigh.

A depressingly accurate typology that’s forcing me to rethink the shape of my summer (indeed, my tenure-folder-is-in-and-the-intellectual-world-is-my-oyster summer) to-do list.

19

Danny Hidalgo 06.09.05 at 12:04 pm

Any suggestions on a lin algebra textbook, preferebly one with lots of problems (and the answers!!)? I’m a poli sci grad student trying to learn matrix algebra on my own and your comments aren’t too encouraging. Boy I regret not taking more math as an undergrad…

20

Brad DeLong 06.10.05 at 12:37 am

Re: “what I really need is a way to upload substantial parts of the brains of, say, Brad DeLong and Cosma Shalizi into my own.”

Sounds really painful for all concerned. From a utilitarian perspective, I’d have to say “No.”

21

rjw 06.10.05 at 3:44 am

There are plenty of good linear algebra texts out there.

As an undergraduate (in economics) I used Gilbert Strang’s book, which is very readable. Incidentally, he has an on-line series of video lectures on the MIT website that you can watch from your PC.

If you like visualising LA, thinking about what the equations look like in space, then there is an interesting book called ‘linear algebra through geometry’ which looks excellent. It starts in 2 -D and moves up. I’ve only flicked through my copy, but it looks very nice.

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