Wednesday, July 12, 2006

From NM With Love

I'm still at my conference in New Mexico, and thought I'd check in briefly. I'm enjoying the lectures quite a bit and getting lots of ideas for research. The conference resort is fabulous, but the climate is the real highlight of the trip. Mornings are cool; afternoons get warm and sunny (but dry!); then the clouds roll in and we maybe get a little rain; a little while later the clouds disappear and we get a perfectly clear and cool evening. Paradise. Plus, New Mexico people are pretty relaxed and down to earth. It's a great place.

Meanwhile, I have had an epiphany about the nature of genius. I have had the distinction of spending time with a man who represents the stereotype -- a Nobel laureate physicist, who is incredibly brilliant, knowledgeable, well-spoken, and figures things out with lightning speed. He is also hugely egotistical, unpersonable, and intimidating as hell. Three days ago I met this person, who is also incredibly brilliant. However, you will never meet a more humble, personable, self-effacing man. A man, who after solving a problem that even Einstein believed to be unsolvable, still thinks he has something to learn from people, and will listen attentively and take notes when a junior researcher is giving a lecture. It was a genuine pleasure to listen to him explain how he arrived at his famous solution. He admitted that at one point, when he didn't understand a particular mathematical concept, he simply opened an undergraduate textbook and figured it out. It's then that I realized that genius doesn't always live up to its stereotype. It often involves lots of work, an overwhelming drive to solve a problem, and an unshakable faith that it can be solved. In other words, it has a lot more to do with character than capability. (If you aren't convinced, watch this movie.) Incidentally, the "legendary" stuff described in the article above is, in fact, quite truthful.

So, that was my big epiphany. Well, sorta. I had already figured out that the most brilliant students were, in actuality, just the ones who studied 12 hours a day and never gave up on figuring things out. But I didn't realize how much that extended into the realm of genius. I think that principle pretty much applies to every aspect of life.

(P.S. I get to visit a big, super-secret government lab tomorrow. If you don't hear from me in 30 days, alert the conspiracists!)


Blogger carnaby said...

Do you realize that you are in a "gold star" open carry state? Why don't you have a giant hand-cannon strapped to your hip?

7/13/2006 9:05 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

No kidding? Well, I guess I didn't do my research before coming here. I haven't seen any open carry since I've been here, but maybe folks in the cities don't opt for that.

7/13/2006 9:58 AM  
Anonymous David Smith said...

Having made the Tucson to Austin drive many times now, I know what you mean about wanting to be armed. My wife and I always have at least two pistols at hand in the car.

But the drive is quite beautiful if you like desert scenery and don't get out of the air-conditioned car. We bought the Roadside Geology series of books to give us something to look at when making these trips. Since my wife did geology at UT, she can elaborate and explain things I don't understand.

Apparently, millions of years ago, there were small volcanoes all over eastern AZ, for example, that have left dark plugs of igneous rock sticking out from the mountains.

Still, though, I was standing outside the other day in the 110+ degree sun wondering why the hell anyone ever settled out here.

7/18/2006 3:08 PM  
Blogger carnaby said...

Hah! More comment spam. I knew it!

Seriously though, two pistols in the car, that's the way to travel. Even better if you have a rifle in the trunk.

7/18/2006 5:14 PM  
Anonymous David Smith said...

One of my favorite quotes of all time:

"Running out of ammo in a gunfight is socially unacceptable."

7/19/2006 1:13 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

Wow, Dave, having a geologist along for the drive is definitely the way to go.

How come you drove to Tucson so many times? Were you observing at Kitt Peak or is it because your wife is attending UA? What are your impressions of Tucson? I'm curious, because I know a lot of people who want to live there. I've got to properly visit it someday, and not just see it from the interstate. Especially because of a certain really cool person who lives there.

Carnaby: why two pistols?

7/20/2006 11:25 AM  
Anonymous David Smith said...

I'm living in Tucson, so I travel to Austin to meet with my advisor. I'll be back first week of Aug to defend. I like the city fine, but it's a relatively poor town compared to Austin. Most every store closes at 8pm. Kind of annoying for a night owl like me. The heat isn't so bad, and other times of the year the sunshine and clear skies are great. The perpendicular streets are nice, and traffic is better than Austin.

My wife and I like Tucson, but we like Austin better. I'm definitely glad I'm living out in the desert for a few years, though. It's a good experience.

7/20/2006 4:57 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

Well, heck, I didn't realize you had moved. I thought you were just temporarily out of town. In any case, I'll definitely be at your defense!

Say, have you visited Kevin yet?

7/21/2006 10:25 AM  
Anonymous David Smith said...

Uh, no. It didn't occur to me that he was in Tucson until his comment here. And I don't keep up with his blog very well anymore, so I have some guilt issues I'm trying to avoid. :)

See you at the defense.

7/23/2006 1:25 AM  

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