Reflections of a Caffeinated Person
As I walk down Sherbrook street humming and subvocalizing “For the Benefit of Mr Kite” by The Beatles, I think about how stress and my coffee consumption habits seem to be caught in a feedback loop these days. And I think about how little narrative the past nine months have had.
One true thing is that I’ve been shipping as many small things as I ever have: from mediocre short stories about Eodopus complexes to little software projects, and boy, I sure have travelled a lot. But, I always have the feeling that I’m not doing enough.
Being rejected and ghosted by company after company and watching my balance go below zero is stressful. Especially PingThings; I was genuinely excited about their project to modernize the US power grid, but at the end of the day, short of sending them another follow-up message, it seems like there’s not much I can do to convince them not to ghost me. My mind is not calm and relaxed.
Sometimes I feel lost in the world. Who are my friends, who are the people I’m closest to? They seem to drift in and out. My family is over the ocean, and so is my childhood. My Montreal math friends are here in Montreal, but our friendships revolved around doing math problems together and hanging out in the groggy windowless basement of our brutalist monolith of a department building we all love. But no longer, that’s the curse of specialization. Everyone is working in their own particular domain these days. Communities form around professions, hobbies, or shared experiences.
Let me correct the statement at the beginning of the above paragraph. My friends don’t drift in and out; I drift in and out of their lives. I’m the freaking globe-trotting 21st-century high-tech nomad. So I only have myself to blame.
Based solely on the words I write, I can’t tell that my sentences are scattered. I can only know that they are, indirectly: because that’s how I feel, and even though I think what I’m writing is sensible, I can use my faculty of reasoning to deduce that scattered thoughts beget scattered sentences, and therefore my writing must be scattered. It’s a strange feeling: knowing something rationally but not feeling it intuitively.
If I go back to school, it won’t be the same as it used to be. Maybe that’s for the best. I’ll be able to take a Mandarin class, take Luc’s classes, study some graph theory and statistical mechanics…
A Caffeinated Mathematical Metaphor
Unfortunately, in this story-obsessed world, I’ll probably have to find a way to retroactively squeeze this year into a crafty narrative at some point in time.
Do you know why it is that people like narratives? It’s because a narrative is a good first-order approximation. But they are only that, a first-order approximation, and they should always be taken with a heap of salt. Here’s a metaphor. Suppose you want to tell your friend about your life, which looks like this
defined on the domain [0,1], but your friend only has a few minutes to spare. You’re better off just telling him that your story is approximately
And if they’re in a rush, you can drop those small terms, and your story becomes
And when you’re pitching your narrative to some potential employer, you have to be succinct, take a rough mean and tell them that you are
NB, this 1 is not Zen one-ness: a concept encapsulating the ‘emptiness’ of concepts, that points to the fact that reality transcends the dualities implied by concepts: any explanation or story is incomplete, failing to represent reality in its gloriously rich detail. No. This f(x)=1 is the exact opposite. It points to a small set of qualities and actions. It is the act of identifying yourself with them. A concrete example of this is someone who puts things like “I’m a detail-oriented, product-first action item” or some other random mash of corporate buzzwords on their Linked-In bios. Gosh, they must be desperate. Or clueless.
Caffeinated meta-self-reflection on caffeination
Tweaking can bring forth some qualities in me which are only present while high on caffeine. First of all, I become more frontal. For instance, I recently posted an unfairly harsh criticism of the pitfalls of an organization on their message board which I instantly regretted. Still, I didn’t delete the comment because that would be getting off the hook too easily—I must suffer the guilt of doing stupid things like that to learn my lesson, so I left it there. Luckily, they didn’t take it badly, and we subsequently had a productive exchange. Then I got voted to become a board member of this organization.
Sometimes caffeine highs inspire me to do some good math or some equivalent creative endeavour like coding or streaming a page of entertaining thoughts directly from my brain through my nervous system onto the keyboard and etched into my SSD. And I feel like Benjamin Franklin brandishing his lightning rod over a cowering would-be doomed soul, sheltering him from God’s wrath of electrons.
Note to self: please try, for the 127th time, to implement the no caffeine after midday rule. How are you going to fall asleep, my friend?
Caffeine highs turn me into an impatient reader. I dislike that. Sometimes I just want to focus, read, and digest at my leisure.
Here’s a framework I just thought of! You use two mental instruments when reading: one detector and one digestor. The detector scans sentences and either rejects or accepts them. Once a sentence is accepted, it’s sent to the digestor with an instruction from the detector detailing how much time should be spent digesting that sentence. Drinking coffee boosts your detector’s capabilities, so getting things done quickly is easier, but it’s just as hard to do them well. And it can be harder to actually sit down and deeply sink your teeth into something. If you have too much caffeine or you’re too stressed, your detector becomes way too ambitious, handing off large chunks of undigestable data to the digestor’s fast-track digestion system. This is an undesirable state of affairs.
In other news
I may have landed a contract to set up a cloud computing pipeline for EEG seizure analysis. I hope I get this; I can’t wait to jump back into the weeds of solving technical problems and implementing algorithms for money.
Working only on open source projects is fun, but it’s also taxing and not unsustainable without an income. In the long term, I plan to keep iterating through small projects until I hit something really fun that might have a bright future and then apply to an EV grant.
I became a math tutor and have taken on a small smattering of students.
I also saw a live performance of The Pirates of Penzance and received a very touching and well-written letter from a childhood friend. Life is good.
The above is an experimental piece. Let me know if you enjoy it.
Thank you, Marley and Sneha, for reading a draft of these caffeinated thoughts and finding them entertaining, encouraging me, for better or worse, to publish them.
I went to seek advice about blogging from DKB, who suggested that I think more about my audience and write with them in mind. So I started thinking about that and didn’t get very far. Then I watched this discussion of the mid-wit meme and decided that I’m not going to overthink it and just publish whatever I find entertaining. Be warned.