I have been occasionally keeping sporadic documentation in overleaf documents related to things I am learning and my projects, but I never really found formats that worked particularly well. I would often create too many sections related to various ideas and then never really piece them together or, more often, abandon them altogether. Last summer I got a pretty good knowledge base system going that solved this problem by trying to have my notes be atomic (Andy Matuschak is incredible btw). I found this software Obsidian which provides very simple formats for notes and is modeled partially after Andy’s site (hence how I found it). However I have not really found it ideal for tracking daily progress. So, that is a place where overleaf can shine and store a daily log of work. I started an experimental log which is essentially just a record of details following the scientific method: stating what I am doing, what I hope to find, and then what I actually find. It’s actually terrible that I haven’t done something as simple and cohesive as that until now, but better late than never. Tomorrow I intend to start a similar progress journal which is just a log of my thoughts each day and is the “fluff” not explained in the experimental log (plus I probably won’t be running experiments every single day).
Relatedly to the bit about not keeping a scientific journal - being a math PhD I often don’t feel like a scientist. Science to me has always involved understanding things about the physical world or discovering new things. I think this is partially because I find the period of scientific exploration in the 19th century to be very romantic (even though in all actuality it was very much just imperialism disguised as science) because of literature like Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle, and even The Golden Compass. However what I’m doing now really makes me feel like a scientist. Writing in a log about my experiments and consciously engaging with the scientific method each day. I was listening to a podcast today where the guest Annie Murphy Paul described how our brain may be working with a lot more of our environment than we think it is, and the tools we use and content we consume can shape how think (I’m a little biased because I did a directed reading with Philosophy professor Larry Shapiro during my undergrad about embodied cognition so I tend to buy into the hypothesis as it makes a lot of sense to me). While listening to this podcast it clicked with me that reading those 19th century science novels while doing science can probably be a pretty useful thing to do. In particular she mentioned how people who are having things at their workplace that remind them and uphold them to what they want to be doing there tend to do better work (don’t have a citation sorry). I’ve noticed this in some pictures of people I admire like Bret Victor and Alan Kay so I’m inclined that there is some truth to it. Often mathematicians will have unerased chalkboards in their offices and perhaps part of it is to serve as a continual reminder of what they want to be doing (or they are just too lazy to erase it each day). Anyways, the environment you create for yourself and the content you consume while working seems to be important and often overlooked so I think its worth thinking about a little bit as it can help put you in a productive mindset each day.
A new section that I wound to add is daily listening and daily reading to serve as a record of part of my mental environment!
Daily Listening Been back into Soichi Terada lately since his new album came out and today I listened to a lot of Far East Recording 1 & 2. I like 2 more in general. The beats are catchier and it just feels smoother to me.
I’ve also been into this really short blip of music from an analog horror video (timestamped for you, but if you’re into horror I’d recommend watching it from the beginning). It’s got a really haunting easy listening vibe to it that I really like and would love to find more like that.
Daily Reading Been working through Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island but am going to be taking a little pause to read Ursula K Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven since my library hold on it came through sooner than expected. It has a fantastic name so hopefully the story is just as fantastic.