Twofish's Blog

August 20, 2006

Physics of Finance: Gauge Modelling in Non-equilibrium Pricing

Filed under: academia, physics, quantitative finance, quantlib, Uncategorized — twofish @ 2:04 am


Really cool book.  If you are trying to understand fiber bundles (even if you don’t have anything to do with finance), get this book.  The first three chapters have the most readable explanation of fiber bundles I’ve seen anywhere.

August 12, 2006

Notes on More Jobs in Science

Something about my own background.  One thing that I did was to take a lot of EE courses and spend real effort in writing and Chinese courses.  My undergraduate physics dissertation was in courseware development.  I spend a huge amount of time in the Undergraduate Association and with the Course Evaluation Guide.  This *did* have an *major* adverse impact on my getting into graduate school, but it made me hugely more employable once I got out.

In hindsight, it probably was a good deal for me.  I did manage to get into a pretty good graduate school (University of Texas at Austin), although I was rejected from the top ones (Harvard and MIT) I wanted to go to.  Not being able to get into the prestige graduate programs (and was *extremely* personally painful) and has ripple effects because it makes it harder to get post-docs and faculty positions.  On the other hand, I was able to go into industry easily, and I have enough money saved up so that I am getting back into academia through a non-traditional route (i.e. just publish).
Some lessons:

1) The main reason that I did what I did, was to appeal to basic principles, and that was that it was a good thing to develop flexibility and well-roundedness, even if you have to fight the system to do it, and even if the system rewards the opposite behavior.

2) The problem with getting advice is that the advice is often geared toward optimizing toward the speakers goals rather than the students.  My undergraduate education was not optimized for going into academia the traditional way, but by compromising a little bit, I exchanged getting into top tier graduate schools for employablity, and I still got into a good graduate school, and learned Chinese and writing in the process.

The other problem is that there are a lot of things in my career path that involved things that *no one* really thought about in 1991.  The impact of globalization, the rise of China, and dot-com boom and bust.  The one thing that my education did provide was the flexibility and tools to figure out what to do in situations that no one forsaw in 1991.  One thing that worries my about talk of curriculum is that a lot of it involves optimizing for the world of 2006 rather than the world of 2036, which will have issues that no one now knows about.

Something that was *really* useful to me was studying philosophy, history, Chinese, and literature.  A lot of what I’m doing now involves studying what Chinese of the mid-19th century did when *they* had a massive degree overproduction problem.  A lot of the issues I had to face are basically social/ethical ones.  What is my duty to my wife, my kids, my co-workers?

All this has been useful, but I had to actively fight the system in order get that education.  Because I cared a lot about the humanities, I couldn’t get into the grad schools that my peer group was able to get into, and that was very, very painful.  It’s like being rejected by a woman that you deeply love.  Love turns to hate and resentment.
What was even more painful was being “rejected” by the MIT physics department, since I had grown to truly love the place.   It’s only in the last few months, that I realized that if I fly to Cambridge, hang around the physics department, that they won’t send the Campus Police to eject me, and that I really have some useful experience to offer them, and if they don’t listen to me its they that have problems, not me.

The thing that concerns me about traditional academia is that it is getting extremely inbred.  If you want a position of power in academia, you have to do everything right, and if one thing goes different than the system rejects you.  This is bad because it adds unnecessary pressure, it prevents people from actually trying to do new and different things, and it means that the people who end up in power basically see the world in the same way.

I don’t think that there should be a standard physics curriculum.  What I think there should be is some basic guidelines, a lot of choices and flexibility, and *lots* of information for the student, and then you trust the student to figure out what to do since they know more about themselves than the teacher.

July 25, 2006

Protected: And The Devil Will Cometh

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July 24, 2006

Managing my physics crack addiction

Here is a neuroscience paper that should explain a lot about me:

Biederman, I., & Vessel, E. A. (2006) Perceptual pleasure and the brain. American Scientist, 94, 247-253.

It’s about how looking at certain images stimulates opiate receptors in the brain.

In other words, when I run my supernova simulations or work on QuantLib, the *exact* same things are happening in my brain as when a crack or heroin addict shoots up with the stuff. Thinking about the effects of neutrino mass on pair production using tau neutrinos produces *exactly* the same neurochemical “high” that joggers feel or that crack addicts feel. And the rush of opiates produces a physical addiction.

Lots of things should start to make sense. Like why when I think about physics, I can muster scary amounts of energy and small amounts of sleep, but I get ***extremely*** irritable. When I was at the MIT reunion, my wife and I were getting into fights very often, because I was annoyed that she wouldn’t let me get my “crack.” For that matter, the sleep wake habits of your typical MIT physics student should make sense (small amounts of sleep for long periods of time then crash). It should also make sense why investment banks *love* physics and mathematics Ph.D.’s, and most importantly, I it explains why I started having these weird and bizarre feelings, once I realized that fathering a certain woman’s children was the *only* chance I’ve ever realistically had of getting a steady and reliable source of “crack” . (Read the other entries in the blogs about the “fairy princess” and some of the weird consequences of academic hiring) “Physics crack” can be extremely expensive. A particle accelerator (a.k.a. a big crack house) can cost several billion dollars.

If you see me as a “crack addict” and not as a “smart computing machine” then you will have a much better idea of how I am, and why I am doing what I’m doing. If you look at me as someone who is dispassionately doing a job like a robot, you have *no* idea the intensity of the feelings and emotions that I have when I do physics. If you see me as a “crack addict,” you start realizing what my world *feels* like, and the scary intensity of my feelings.
But, and this is the key point. It is not a “disease to be cured” but an “addiction to be managed.”

You change neurochemistry so that people don’t get a “physics high” then you’ve just destroyed Einstein and Newton and every other physicist or mathematician out there. We are all “crack addicts” The fact that astrophysicists are willing to take just extremely low paying post-doc positions is *exactly* the same reason why crack addicts are willing to steal just about anything to pay for their supply.

The fact that “astrophysics” is “crack” is neither good or bad, but it does give some insights which I hope can help people (like me) make intelligent decisions.

Whoever controls my supply of “crack” literally controls me. Someone who can turn on and off the supply of opiates to my brain can literally turn me into their slave (which explains a lot of the unhealthy power relationships in academia.) I’m willing to give that level of control over me to my wife. (My wife in fact does a good job of keeping from getting too much “crack.”) I’m not willing to give anywhere near that amount of control to my employer. This is part of the reason that I work on open source software. It means that I have a stash of “crack” that I control, and which no one can take away from me.

I also have to be careful about my environment. My brain is very different now than it was when I was 19, because it’s had the effects of fifteen more years of crack addiction.

One thing that I found that I had to be very careful about is how much time I spend on the MIT campus because MIT is for me the world’s ultimate crack house. I love being on campus and I didn’t realize until I went back how wonderful it felt to be there. My opiate receptors are just flying back and forth. My wife hated it. And she had reason to since I was showing the standard signs of crack addiction.

One thing that I is true about my current job, is that the type of programming I do seems to stimulate different neural receptors or stimulate them in a different way. I don’t know exactly what is happening (but I suspect that if would be obvious once someone does some research on this) but I feel different parts of my brain working when I do maintainence coding. I call it “cold programming” rather than “hot programming.” I suspect that this type of programming seems to provide some steady small supplies of opiates, rather than massive bursts, and that causes less irritability. Codeine rather than heroin.
But in deciding what jobs to do and what places to go, I have to keep in mind that I’m managing a “physics crack addiction.” The two non-negotiables is that I’m not willing to ruin my health and I’m not willing to ruin my family, and given the intensity of the things that go on in my head, this is actually going to be very, very hard to do. I suspect that as I get older, it will even get harder to do, and one reason I’m posting so much in the hopes that people younger than me will get something useful is that I’m really interested in how older people have managed their “physics crack addictions.”

It also has some profound public policy implications. I’m not only a “crack user”, I’m also a “crack dealer.” As someone who tries to be science teacher, I’m trying to get people hooked on “physics crack.” I think that this is probably a good thing for society, but people need to realize how powerful the forces that are unleashed are, so that we can make sensible decisions. If we create large numbers of people who are hooked on “physics crack” and have no good mechanism for them to get their fix, then it is going to be very bad for society.

But the first step to managing an addiction is to realize that it exists, and I’m hoping that the realization that “physics is crack” is going to provide some useful insights about what people should do.

July 23, 2006

Protected: I wish I was her house husband

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Protected: The Astrophysics Casting Couch

Filed under: academia, Career, father, physics, wikipedia — twofish @ 5:07 am

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