Saturday, 26 November 2005 - 5:09am

Examining the Flecks of Dust that Rest in My Hand

There are days that are technically not vacation, but because of the mores of society, become that way1. And I come to the end of that day, bemused at how I could have spent so much of my afternoon, rather than working intently on a website that needs much updating, or a project that requires much thinking, instead reading (to my credit) a combination of recent-past news and articles in progressive sources, and (to my detriment) spending time looking at sports articles in wikipedia and CNN. Why would I do such a thing (the latter)? Is it a hearkening back to my old days in middle school of pouring over stats and absorbing the seeming-meaning in the mass of numbers? Or is it some sick desire to be present in the inanity2 of it all, a want to be consumed by all that I find wrong in this world? Most likely it simply reflects my interest in what I see to be a problem, a misplacement of our ideas of entertainment and culture, and a wish to think of ways either to 1) help fix it, or 2) stay far away from it.

I don’t have answers, nor do I have suggestions, not at this juncture3.

What follows are just flecks of thoughts, as I don’t want to significantly contribute to the noise.

  • I realize that Asimov was more of a pulp science-fiction author than Herbert or Delany, and although I haven’t read the book in question, but I doubt the dialogue in I, Robot was as stilted and fake as the dialogue in the movie adaptation.
  • Solutions to the large problems of our society will not come through legislation or top-down proclamations, but rather bottom-up via personal decisions by people not in power and by people in power.
  • With the No Child Left Behind Act4 comes bouts of testing, both at the state and the national level. Undoubtedly there will be comparisons of performance on state and national exams, as explored in an article from Friday’s New York Times called Students Ace State Tests, but Earn D’s From U.S.. The results? In Alabama, 83 percent of the state’s 4th graders scored at a proficient level on the state reading test, but only 22 percent scored at that level on the national test. A spokesman for the state Education Department had this to say: “Making comparisons to the NAEP [the national test] becomes very difficult without giving the impression that some states are not measuring up to others or to the nation.” As if we shouldn’t be having these impressions? As if having these impressions is somehow bad?
  • An interview on NPR from earlier this year regarding the trend to customized content and the dangers this brings: TiVo, iPod, the Human Ego and the Future. More on this in future posts.

More thoughtfulness in the future, I promise.

1 A vacation where we worship the dollar and the blackness that it brings clanging and shuffling into the coffers of our retailers.

2 My opinion only, of course. Other probably consider articles about “The Origins of Music: Innateness, Uniqueness, and Evolution” inane, and they’re most entitled to that opinion.

3 And I perhaps never will.

4 A definite misnomer.

Friday, 4 November 2005 - 11:18pm


Seen on a site that offers downloads of national anthems (shh! for a secret project):


Friday, October 14 2005 @ 09:08 AM
Contributed by: Anonymous
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I believe wars have been fought for less than this.

Monday, 31 October 2005 - 11:24pm

Acorns and Stories


Fall, or more-pleasing-to-the-ear, autumn, stands out amongst all other seasons. While others lament the cooling weather and darker days, I revel in the distinct scent of dead but colourful leaves that the trees in their haste to be ready for winter strew upon the ground. I enjoy the need to wear long-sleeved shirts and coats, for it means I no longer drip with unwanted sweat. I look forward to the days when darkness is greater than light; when the streetlights illuminate the falling snowflakes as if you were traveling through a starfield.

While I sponteneously will pick up a pile of leaves and through it into the air, Mr. Frazier stomps on acorns. I have to admit to doing the same on occasion, but without the gusto he describes. Maybe on my way home tonight I’ll seek out the acorns below and stomp out my frustrations. Instead of C-I-G-N-A, I’ll spell OP-AMP-INTEGRATOR.


For at least three years now I have seen the hullaboo of NaNoWriMo, the event where your goal is to write a novel, not necessarily good, during the month of November. I’ve tried once; I lasted approximately three days. Now, in the beginings of my graduate school career, and a month full of work ahead, would not be the time to try again.

So I looked with interest into WriAShorStorWe. Unfortunately, it’s supposed to happen this week, which also happens to be the week that NSF Graduate Research Fellowships are due, at least for psychology. So I’m going to push that back a week. And do it next week. And be the only one doing it next week. I’m going to be behind the times1.

1 That’s a rather strange to say, “I’m going to be behind the times.” I’m making a statement about my future state of not being current with the prevailing sentiment. And I’m saying this in what will be, when the time comes, the past. This seems like a bizarre thing to say and appears to be only valid when our sense of time moves much faster than we’re designed for.

Tuesday, 25 October 2005 - 3:40am

The Virtue of Slowness as a Graduate Student

Carrots, when pulled from the ground, washed, and peeled, are a wonderful late-summer, early-fall snack. (And when you’re young and told that eating the vegetable will improve your eyesight, you can spend many minutes shortly after dusk convincing yourself that, indeed, your eyesight was bettered by eating the carrot for dinner.) Carrots, when put in front of you (or a rabbit), can be an inducer of positive action. However, when the carrot metaphorically takes on the guise of money, the crunchy food turns into a moldy, soggy mess only a maggot could ingest.

I write using such rotten words because only six weeks into my graduate program I can see already how money-in-the-form-of-a-carrot can lead to sub-par work that is guided not by scientific goals or hypotheses, or well-reasoned and explored design methods, but rather by flashiness and superficialities. I hesitate to get more specific here, but let me try and explain further.

Ambitious people create their own carrots. For scientists, it might be called Nobel, Fields, or Cover-Article-in-Science. For writers, carrots become New York Times Bestseller, Pulitzer, or McSweeney’s. Graduate students of many disciplines merely want symbolic carrots called Piece-of-paper-that-says-I-have-a-Ph.D. Yet each of these inducers of action is a combination of a strong internal motivation with a non-monetary external aspect1. When the dollar (yen/euro/yuan) gets involved, covering the crisp exterior of the carrot with the even crisper paper of financial gain, your pace of work inevitably quickens; you begin cutting corners; you fail to step back and reflect on what you have done, what you are doing, and what you will do.

It’s this last point that concerns me the most tonight. On a day dubbed2 Take Back Your Time Day I find that the simple ability to take a day to step back and reflect on the direction I am going is not a normal part of a graduate student’s time in the Lab. Yet at this point in my excursion through low-level academic life I need many times to pause for a moment or two and decide on possible course corrections. Even if I continue unabated the rests will have provided useful instants of potential clarity and coalescence.

I fear that the fast-paced nature of the Lab is its most notable weakness, and such a problem threatens to affect me in ways both personally and professionally that are not desirable.

It’s at times like this that the contemplative music of a number of Icelandic artists provides a reassuring framework for thoughts.

(The title of this post refers to a book by Ayn Rand with a title so audacious that I won’t repeat it here. My not-appropriate-for-children remarks about her philosophy will have to wait for another day.)


1 Of course, the Nobel and Fields both offer monetary awards, but the prestige overpowers any financial considerations.

2 Day so chosen to reflect the point in the year when we have worked as much as our colleagues in Europe will work in the entire year.

Tuesday, 25 October 2005 - 12:42am arises before Halloween.

This site arises from its former name of “”.

Do not expect regular updates, on-topic posts, or witty commentary. Much will likely be depressing or technical, sometimes a combination of both.

This site will be minimal.

This site will chronicle some of my thoughts.

Please e-mail me: nknouf (at) zeitkunst (dot) org.

Please return to whatever you were doing.