Why I Spent Convergence Working

Convergence is basically Perimeter Institute Christmas.

This week, the building was dressed up in festive posters and elaborate chalk art, and filled with Perimeter’s many distant relations. Convergence is like a hybrid of an alumni reunion and a conference, where Perimeter’s former students and close collaborators come to hear talks about the glory of Perimeter and the marvels of its research.

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And I attended none of those talks.

I led a discussion session on the first day of Convergence (which was actually pretty fun!), and I helped out in the online chat for the public lecture on Emmy Noether. But I didn’t register for the conference, and I didn’t take the time to just sit down and listen to a talk.

Before you ask, this isn’t because the talks are going to be viewable online. (Though they are, and I’d recommend watching a few if you’re in the mood for a fun physics talk.)

It’s partly to do with how general these talks are. Convergence is very broad: rather than being focused on a single topic, its goal is to bring people from very different sub-fields together, hopefully to spark new ideas. The result, though, are talks that are about as broad as you can get while still being directed at theoretical physicists. Most physics departments have talks like these once a week, they’re called colloquia. Perimeter has colloquia too: they’re typically in the room that the Convergence talks happened in. Some of the Convergence talks have already been given as colloquia! So part of my reluctance is the feeling that, if I haven’t seen these talks before, I probably will before too long.

The main reason, though, is work. I’ve been working on a fairly big project, since shortly after I got to Perimeter. It’s an extension of my previous work, dealing with the next, more complicated step in the same calculation. And it’s kind of driving me nuts.

The thing is, we had almost all of what we needed around January. We’ve accomplished our main goal, we’ve got the result that we were looking for. We just need to plot it, to get actual numbers out. And for some reason, that’s taken six months.

This week, I thought I had an idea that would make the calculation work. Rationally, I know I could have just taken the week to attend Convergence, and worked on the problem afterwards. We’ve waited six months, we can wait another week.

But that’s not why I do science. I do science to solve problems. And right here, in front of me, I had a problem that maybe I could solve. And I knew I wasn’t going to be able to focus on a bunch of colloquium talks with that sitting in the back of my mind.

So I skipped Convergence, and sat watching the calculation run again and again, each time trying to streamline it until it’s fast enough to work properly. It hasn’t worked yet, but I’m so close. So I’m hoping.

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4 thoughts on “Why I Spent Convergence Working

  1. JollyJoker

    Fast enough to work properly? Are you just tweaking performance here? And why would it not work properly if it’s too slow?

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    Reply

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