In her introduction to the ‘World’s Wife’ by Carol Ann Duffy, Jeanette Winterson says the ‘punishment of the Gods turns out to be a 24/7 always-on meaningless managerial job, where no matter how many emails you answer, your inbox will be full again the next day’. As a professor, I am fortunate not to have the meaningless job part of this punishment but I do sometimes feel that my inbox fills up no matter how many emails I answer. Actually, I suspect that the filling rate is related to my answering rate but it appears to be a complex feedback relationship.
Many of us compound the punishment by shackling ourselves to the inbox via our smartphones. You may not see it as a punishment to be constantly in touch with everyone but it is probably a handicap. We have a limited bandwidth to handle information and people tend to over-communicate and lack understanding. We need to reduce the level of communication and increase the level of understanding.
I am breaking the relentless cycle of communication by taking a holiday for a couple of weeks. There will be some horizon therapy [see my post entitled ‘Horizon Therapy‘ on May 4th, 2016] and mind-wandering [see post entitled ‘Mind wandering‘ on September 3rd, 2014] as well as doing pretty much nothing.
Few weeks ago I mentioned about reading undergraduate dissertations [see my post entitled ‘A Startling Result‘ on May 18th, 2016] and about a year ago I wrote about the low quality of prose produced by engineers [see my post entitled ‘Reader, Reader, Reader‘ on April 15th, 2015 ]. Coleridge described prose as words in the best order and poetry as the best words in the best order. So today I’d like to direct you to a poem entitled ‘Entropy‘ by Neil Rollinson from his anthology ‘Spanish Fly’. Here are a few lines from it:
“I open the window, the sky is dark
and the house is also cooling, the garden,
the summer lawn, all of it finding an equilibrium.”
I came across it while reading an anthology called ‘A Quark for Mister Mark: 101 Poems about Science‘ edited by Maurice Riordan and Jon Turney. I was dipping into it while enjoying a pint in our backyard after a personal battle with entropy: painting rusting railings in our yard.
Regular readers will have noticed my recent predilection for poetry. I am going to deviate from the theme, but only slightly, by highlighting the work of Ada Lovelace who has been described as writing about differential calculus with the same passion that her father, Lord Byron wrote about forbidden love. As I observed last week, we need more people who can write with passion about engineering and science; so it is appropriate following International Women’s Day on Sunday to highlight the work of Ada Lovelace who worked on programs for Babbage’s analytical engine. She could be described as the world’s first computer programmer. However, she was much more than that because in her writings she foresaw a world in which computers would be aesthetic tools capable of creating language and art. She was at least hundred years ahead of her time. Perhaps growing up surrounded by poetry gave her the skills to express her passion for technology and the vision to see its potential. If that is the case then we should encourage prospective engineers to read English literature and not books on engineering as implied in my post entitled ‘Good reads for budding engineers‘ on February 25th, 2015. We need engineers to stand astride the boundary between the ‘Two Cultures‘ [see post of the same title on March 5th, 2013].
For more on modern female scientists and the gender imbalance in science watch the short film from the Royal Society entitled ‘A Chemical Imbalance‘ [see my post on of the same title on October 2nd, 2013]