Transpacific flight

And so we embarked on our first US to Singapore (direct) flight on Tuesday, leaving San Francisco on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The flight itself took 15 hours and we spent most of it watching TV – they had Studio Ghibli’s Red Turtle! According to the optician my astigmatism has gone up by 50 degrees in my left eye (which is not normal at my age). I got new glasses made (now in blue!) and the guy in this little push cart shop in J8 took all of 30 minutes to make the lenses. He told us to take a walk and he’d have the glasses ready in half an hour. When we were kids it took 3 days, and a return trip to the spectacle shop. I suppose this is a childhood experience that most American children would not have :P

Most of the plane journey was shrouded in night, as we followed the path of the setting sun. A day had to be given up somewhere. When we left San Francisco we could see the moon reflecting off all the little pools and rivulets of water enclosed by land. On the great big ocean the moon’s reflection was just a dim sort of matte glow, and on land that glow would run through all the tributaries on the very craggy Californian coast like an animated spark through an animated wire.

This year mooncake festival (or mid-autumn festival, as it is better known to the less gluttonous) starts only in October, which means that when we went to Takashimaya (on our first day here, like 5 hours after touch down :P) the mooncake food fair was in full swing in the atrium! Managed to buy a box of taro mooncakes from Swatow Restaurant, and we have two teochew grandmothers who would like the taro mooncake with its signature flaky skin. This is probably the most difficult mooncake to make. All the lotus paste mooncakes tasted the same :S seems like it would make no difference whether you made them yourself at home (as my mum has been fond of doing) or if you bought them from a fancy hotel where in all likelihood you’d be paying for the box. Mooncakes come in really fancy boxes now, some come in a chest of 4 drawers where each drawer has a pearlescent knob and the entire contraption is upholstered in chinese silk.

We’ve been here for 2 days and already we have eaten
1. Carrot cake
2. Chicken rice for me (twice!)
3. Yong tau foo for him (twice!) – I learnt that the pork noodles that come with Koo Kee yong tau foo are lightly dressed with a briny, porky sauce that makes it taste very similar to aglio olio!
4. Old Chang Kee, which really ought to be everywhere. LZ says he likes their skewers more than their curry puffs. I like both! I also realized that the skewer that consists of deep fried squid legs is known as ‘squid head’ on their menu :S Don’t ask me why. The lady asked if I wanted the squid head skewer or the squid body skewer so I asked for the body, which wasn’t what she grabbed.
5. Zhi char at Dian Xiao Er – had their signature angelica braised roasted duck (I still don’t know how they managed to do a duck two ways all at once and retain its crispy skin), hot plate tofu, seaweed tofu (much less salty than Jumbo’s or the Paradise group, hence less tasty), marmite chicken, etc. etc.
6. Beef noodles from the Ion food court
7. Hum ji peng from the Ion food court
8. The famous Pablo cheese tart
9. Lao Ban dao hui

We notice new things about Singapore each time we’re back. For example, Old Chang Kee has a tea time promotion running from 2pm – 6pm where you can buy 4 skewers at $5 (each usually runs from $1.30 to $1.75). We passed by the shop, saw the promotion, and promptly tried to order it, only to have the aunty tell us unceremoniously “Not 2 o’clock yet.” Which was when we actually looked at the time and realized it was 1:50 pm :P Singaporeans really can be rule abiding to a fault. She didn’t even tell us to “come back later.” She couldn’t care less whether we patronized her stall or not. It was just very jarring coming back from the US :P I don’t think there are many timed promotions there. Like even the Wendy’s 50 cent frosty promotion ran through the entire summer.

We also overheard many snippets of conversation – not hard when you are a population of 7 million squeezed on this tiny plot of land. Tables in restaurants are typically really squashed together so you can easily overhear the next table’s conversation, whether you like it or not, and if you are buying things from a shop there is also typically a short queue, where many people with no concept of personal space will jostle you and let you in on whatever they’re talking about with their friends/family. Many people here have a very mundane concept of morality, most of which seems to have been lifted straight off from our civics and moral education textbooks (or 好公明) – tenets like
1. It is good to spend time with your family. Games that can be played by the whole family must be good!
2. It is good to help an old lady cross the road.
3. It is good to be nice to elderly people in general, letting them cut your queue and have their way whenever they want their way.
and other communist sounding nonsense.
And so many people espoused similarly boring views in the limited conversations we heard over 2 days! On the one hand it is adorable (how everyone is bursting with at least this standard morality), on the other hand I feel a little like I am on Camazotz.

Another feature of Singaporean conversations we noticed is that there is a brand of Singaporeans who like to expound extensively and confidently on subjects they know nothing about. Their tone is uber assured, like that of a Ted talk speaker speaking about his/her life’s work, but what comes out of their mouths is absolute gibberish. It’s really quite fascinating. In general when we’ve listened to people talk about things they are experts in they don’t really put in any effort in sounding confident? Professors usually only become a little bit know-it-all when they are impatient with someone who is not getting their facts right or making stupid assumptions. In conversation most people who know something about anything tend to be more self-effacing or open-minded so as to be able to learn more. Whereas these overheard conversations brought me straight back to my conversations with the natives 3+ years ago, where I actually resorted to naming one of them ‘genius’ and another ‘supergenius’ for their utter shamelessness in expounding on things they know next to nothing about. These evangelists also talk in a particular way that conveys that theirs is the only truth and that there is no other truth. I feel like Jesuits or Jehovah’s Witnesses would do very well here.

Annunci

The Friend Zone

I like LZ’s guy friends much better than I like my girlfriends’ guy friends. I wonder why that is. I told LZ tt it’s probably because I know my girlfriends for much much longer (say since > 10 years ago), so I am that much closer to them. When they bring their +1’s along to meet me, the conversation is more often than not really constrained because I can’t talk to them with the same intimacy when there’s an outsider. Most of their husbands/boyfriends are still obviously outsiders. Even if there is no sensitive information being traded, you don’t want to exclude them too much by talking about things they do not know about :S

Whereas with LZ’s guy friends, -I- am the intruder, I try to make the relationships as intimate as possible in the shortest amount of time by doing unglam things or just being generally familiar without being too irritating. I don’t mind if they talk about their army stuff (as long as it’s not too boring) and I don’t mind them being all weird and excited about their silly tree game. They also don’t mind being unglam in front of me (I am treated more like a boy than a girl, I guess?), perhaps boys just have thicker skin and don’t embarrass that easily. Just the other day one of his guy friends let me put a bubble clay face mask on him just for kicks :o

I don’t think their conversation is super constrained just because I am around, and he and his guy friends go way back too. In fact I think I manage to cover more ground with his guy friends than he does, because you know, guys like him, they can spend a humongous amount of time together without ever talking about anything very “important”. Like they may not know how the other is doing vis a vis more significant aspects of their lives, but just josh around all day without a need to become closer because talking about (what I consider) “important” things can be really awkward. Me, I am damn kaypoh. I want to know all about their girlfriends, their dating philosophies, their exes, what they are like as a person, what makes them tick, what their interests are, what kinds of people they like or dislike, what kinds of food they like or dislike. I want to know the whole person. I don’t just want to be entertained by their lame jokes. So in the final analysis I sometimes pry way more information out of his guy friends than he ever has done in his life. He is really useless as an informant. If he were in defence no spy would ever want to cultivate him.

And that’s why I like his guy friends much more than I like my girlfriends’ guy friends. My girlfriends’ guy friends (apart from Fabio) invariably look like they just came along out of obligation and would like to get out of the meeting asap, instead of trying to be friends properly.

LZ: “How about my female friends?”
Me: “Who?”
LZ: “Hypothetically speaking.”
lol he really doesn’t have any. Well, he has one, and I do like her too. In fact we have written letters to each other completely sidelining him. I tend to do that with his female friends. Either I have a very magnetic personality or I am unhealthily possessive and grabby. All your friends are belong to me.

How to parent a child who is studying overseas

I’m making this guide as a child who is studying overseas :P probably because a lot of my fellow international student children are not as thick skinned as me to ask for stuff. Also, this is for all the parents who wished they had children who communicated in precise terms how they could best help them or parent them. I’m here to communicate what your children crave/want while they are overseas. This is no rocket science but sometimes Singaporean parents can be really obtuse/socially inept and need things spelled out for them in black and white (Newsflash: If you’ve never thought about whether you are socially inept, you are probably socially inept).

1. Send stuff from home for their birthdays. Not useless stuff like clothes or bags or whatever, which they can get cheaper anywhere else (but Singapore), real things, like pineapple tarts, Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa, spice packs, things from Singapore that they would REALLY LIKE but cannot have. Order flowers from a local florist or chocolates or AMAZON GIFT CARDS or something. Most any other country has a far more advanced online shopping system than Singapore and you can exploit that to get your children things they really need or want.

2. Send stuff for Chinese New Year – ang pows, chinese new year snacks, anything really, because there is no festive spirit in countries that are not Singapore and Hong Kong and that’s when they’ll be feeling the most homesick. Do NOT on any account skype them with all your chinese new year goodies in the background stuffing your face gleefully with food that they cannot find overseas. Even an ang moh foodie has famously said “Culinarily, they [Singaporeans] are among the most homesick people I have ever met.” Don’t make it any worse than it has to be.

3. If they send you messages or pictures or updates on whatsapp, BE RELEVANT when responding. Don’t just ignore the 50 pictures they spammed with a totally inane, off-topic response like “went out for a movie today”. You ought to show some base level of interest in their lives overseas, whether it is marvelling at their shitty home cooking or admiring the scenery only found in temperate countries while simultaneously being turned off by your child’s douchebaggy sharing of Too Many Travel Photos. They’re allowed to be socially inept. They’re children! You’re not.

4. Know when their exams are and encourage them! Say you’ll take them out for a meal to celebrate when they are back or something. Many singaporean children study really hard to gain their parents approval (usually not easily gotten if gotten at all) and it can be tough when you’re not around to care about how their academics are going.

5. Arm them with recipes of your home cooked food (if you are a good cook). Be tech savvy. Start a google drive account to share recipes, family photos, etc.

6. Update them on things back home, particularly family/church gossip or news specific to your country. I really don’t understand why this one is so difficult. Is it just my parents/Z’s parents who are this uncommunicative? I just found out this week that my cousin had another baby girl who is now THREE MONTHS OLD. And I found out by seeing a photo on facebook.

7. IF THEY WRITE LETTERS TO UPDATE YOU, REPLY THEM!!!! I cannot believe this has to be said. When I write letters to XXX she reads them and says, “very interesting!” and then files it away (or tosses it, I don’t know) and proceeds to ignore any of the questions I’ve asked her in the letter to SHOW SOME MODICUM OF INTEREST IN HER LIFE. If you haven’t learnt to be entertaining in how you describe your day to day experiences, read a self-help book, or just read writings by entertaining people! It might rub off on you. Or help you to cultivate your sense of humor or interestingness. I think you generally have to be a -not boring- person yourself to be able to see the interesting things happening in your life or perceive “boring things” as “interesting things”. But instead of just writing yourself off as someone who “doesn’t say much” (which I’m sorry, is a big fat excuse), you should at least TRY to share openly about your life, like you would do around the dinner table, which obviously we can’t do now because we’re not in the same freaking country.

I don’t know, it seems like our parents are perfectly happy to abide by “out of sight, out of mind”; they’ll only talk to us if we are in listening distance. I find it plain weird. Even my foster mom from Ithaca gave me a call on my birthday to wish me happy birthday and sent me a nice email full of interesting gobbets about her week.

Bottom-line: Your twenty year old child IS STILL YOUR CHILD. You don’t get a break just because they’re 9000 miles away!

To die for someone

I have been reading the chapter on Love in The Virtuous Life, which is the book my book club has chosen to study (since last year :P) and in it was raised the idea of dying for someone as the ultimate exhibition/proof of love. Now I am one who is firmly convicted of Alan Catchpoole’s definition of love – that you intelligently do what is best for the other. Only that this “other” that is the recipient of love may be small or large, according to the situation. Obviously sometimes the ‘other’ is replaced by ‘society’ as opposed to an individual person.

While in the not so recent past I may have unhesitatingly laid my life in place of my friends’ in this extremely primitive thought experiment, nowadays I start to take in all sorts of factors into consideration, such as
1. How much more of life has this person yet to experience? Correspondingly, how much younger is this person I am to die for? And how overrated are life’s experiences anyway? You are born, you grow old, you fall in love, you fall out of love, you find religion, you live, and you die. Which one is considered a ‘key’ experience?
2. How useful is this person to society? How large his/her sphere of positive influence? I don’t mean to be mercenary about this, but I do think many of my friends do not really make it a life goal to bless other people, to do good for them, encourage them, support them, etc. It’s just not really a consideration in many lives that I observe, and it’s not a moral/judge-y thing – there’s just no impetus for them to be, so it’s consistent with their scheme of belief. If it is the case that I actually do more good to a greater pool of people than they do (which I think happens quite often actually), then it no longer makes sense for me to take their place in death.
3. How many people will be affected by this person’s death? If quantitatively more people will be sad if I die than if the other person dies, then I may not give my life for this person. Then my next thought is – what’s so bad about being sad/mourning/grieving? Sure, it hurts, emotionally, you feel like you’ve been winded, you’re depressed, but I think it’s not really different from being happy. It’s a 0 or a 1. Either way, you’re alive to feel both extremes. Is it more important to be sentient or to be happy?
4. Is this person about to make great STEM discoveries that will benefit all of mankind, or is this person’s job involved in shaping young lives (say, working in ministry, or being a teacher)? Then again to some degree I also feel that ministry workers and teachers are slightly overrated. For the extremely hard of heart or delinquent, you will need divine power to reform them, not just tools. There are, of course, people who professions would never induce me to die for them – lawyers, accountants, engineers, you name it. Unless you’re at Legal Aid or something. You’d have to have a stellar personality as a civil servant for me to die for you.

Naturally I have no conclusion yet as to who I would die for. But if you submit a query for your specific case I will think about it :P
One person I would definitely die for is Liangze, but this is for far more selfish reasons than selfless ones (do not mistake this for romance), in that I cannot imagine existing contently in a world where he is not.

***
Now a special note for protestant Christians (since we are at the bottom of the charts in terms of IQ etc. Just today I read in the news of a couple of faith healers who decided to “faith heal” their baby who had bacterial pneumonia. Guess the end of that story. When I told it to LZ he said, well, that’s one way natural selection works, which may be callous but it is at least realistic. Not to trivialize that child’s death or anything.). One should not mistake Christ’s willingness to die for complete strangers as something to emulate. He died for a purpose, which is that He could take away mankind’s sins. If you think for one instant that your dying for someone else would have even an iota of the same impact as Christ’s, you have another think coming.

I also don’t know how much I agree with Christ dying for his “enemies” as further proof of his perfect love. The term “enemies” I think would take on a whole different connotation for him than for us, wouldn’t it? Our enemies are our peers, people on the same level trying to make life difficult or who are just plain annoying. His enemies have a much more incomplete picture of salvation history than he does – so there should be correspondingly less anger or frustration on his part – it’d be like us being angry at a pet dog misbehaving – totally futile.

Strangers

“If you(A) physically meet yourself(B), would you(A) like yourself(B)? Do you think you(B) can become your(A) good friend?

Wow. That would definitely be a no. I think one of me is quite enough! It would be majorly weird and unsettling to have someone preaching at me about how to cook and parroting my opinions back at me. I think I really don’t like people who can do things better than me. Is that screwed up? Or rather, I don’t like people who behave as if they know better about things I’m awesome at, but I do dole out advice now and then (when asked anyway). It’ll be difficult to not be the best at something in my circle of friends! In fact I don’t think I’m friends with other supposedly good cooks, and those average ones who like to give me cooking advice randomly are particularly abhorrent. I’ll probably listen to my mum, or Kenji, but if you’re just an amateur like me there’s absolutely no reason for me to put any stock by your opinion. You have to either be much older or a professional for me not to be irritated by your well-intentioned advice.

Another problem is that I’m really patronizing a lot of the time and I hate being patronized. Haha. I think I’d make a really horrible friend to myself actually! I don’t know how my current friends tolerate me. Probably cause I feed them. And they’re pretty good natured to take any ribbing.

I’m also not really good friends with any good female photographers. (hope i didn’t inadvertently insult anybody lolol). I wonder if it’s a testosterone thing. Some personality problem perhaps. I probably wouldn’t mind being friends with someone who shares all the same interests and humor and beliefs, but is 90% more self-effacing and non-testosterone-y.

Perhaps it’s because I draw a big fat line between my friends and the people I respect for their art. I think its hard to be close to someone you really respect, because then you’ll realize they’re just normal people with all the same human foibles as you. I wonder if it’s easier to be vastly talented or to be a personable person.

The only thing that keeps L with me is that he thinks I’m cute for whatever reason and also I do stupid things in front of him sometimes. I think finding some area to be absolutely useless in makes one infinitely more approachable and human. L is incredibly smart (and good looking, if you like the whole geeky thing) but he’s also plumb helpless in so many areas that I would never think he was out of my league lol.

We’ve also started classifying boys as either cute or suave. Of course it’s not a dichotomy – we mustn’t forget the pretentious, schmuck-y undateables† – but they’re not pertinent to the discussion at hand. A cute guy is someone who’s got a helpless personality, is uninhibited at doing weird/stupid/cutesy things, and who you’d probably never depend on because he’s more like your younger brother. A suave guy is someone who looks cool, has unyieldingly rational opinions, and looks like he’ll stand up for you or protect you perhaps a little sexistly. We’ve concluded that L definitely belongs to the former camp, which as a girl who has been socially conditioned to like slightly more decisive/macho men, is not quite my cup of tea. I’m not sure it’s anyone’s cup of tea really. I think my ideal mate is a non-chauvinistic suave guy, someone who makes me feel secure, y’know? Who’ll always be looking out for me and protecting me. Then the more rational half of my brain kicks in with “Don’t be retarded, what kind of situations nowadays actually require a male to step in and protect you? Do you really hang around places where you are constantly in physical danger and can’t protect yourself?” The same way I’m amazed at how smart guys don’t really seem to have evolved past being attracted first to a girl’s looks, I guess guys must be amazed at how smart girls still seem to prize masculinity and strength in this day and age where neither are particularly useful.

I think I’ll stick with my scrawny, cute guy for now. He’s funny and he does the dishes. How often are you going to need a bodyguard and how often are you going to need a dishwasher? Do the math.

† We recently picked up one of my brother’s Monocle magazines and were utterly horrified at the kind of hogwash that was in there. So their editors decided it would be a good idea to discuss the hypothetical situation in which all Monocle readers (and other schmucks) set up their own country/town – What shaving style would they adopt? What kind of glasses and clothes would they wear? It was nauseating, all these guys reading this pretentious drivel that aspires to be sartorially authoritative but winds up being revoltingly self-absorbed.

Update:
We got into grad school! Well so far we’ve only heard back from about 2 schools offering positions to both of us (it’s still early, least for math anyway) and $$ for visiting them, so we’ll definitely be in the US/Canada for the next 5 years starting Fall 2014! Better start revising all that algebra :S We’ll probably also be in the area end Feb – early March for school visits. Do I hear chimezzz? Gosh I’ve missed the tower. Here’s a question: Is it unethical to accept the visiting stipend from schools you sorta know you’re not going to attend?
Two days ago we also found out that one of LZ’s papers was accepted to the ICASSP which is in Florence 4-9 May~ So I guess vacation this year has been mapped out for us ;) I hope to spend slightly over a week in Italy after his conference, either heading north to Venezia via Bologna (foooood) or south to Amalfi via Rome and Naples (or by the west coast).

Why do doctors want to be doctors?

We’ve been (LZ has been) visiting the hospital quite a bit these few days because his dad had a keyhole operation on wednesday to remove a cyst that was pretty near to his heart. While the op was on wednesday, he was already discharged today (friday) due to lack of beds in the hospital. His surgeon spent all of one minute talking to him to explain how the operation was going to be conducted. One minute! That’s it! It’s not very reassuring, but his dad said the guy was busy. I think being in the medical trade is a seriously thankless task. The hours are long, the work is dirty, you hardly get enough time to rest adequately before your next shift. But a ton of my friends from high school went to med school (it’s an undergraduate degree in Singapore) because it was a seemingly prestigious field to study. Prestigious for their parents, who can go around telling their friends that their kids were doctors (also, lawyers) and were essentially “professionals” in the shallowest sense of the word. Unless they were motivated by (the somewhat idealistic) notion of making the world a better place by healing people, there is little to be said for such a life of drudgery. And believe me, I don’t think many of my friends were motivated by such moral reasons inasmuch as the very Asian “prestige” such a job offers. I do feel a somewhat small, and admittedly lame sense of pride when I tell other people that my brother is a lawyer, but I would be even more proud of him if he were an architect, or a successful artist (i.e. people will actually pay good money for his art/writing). I do think he would be able to hack it in the art circuit, but you know what? In Singapore, even being a lawyer FIRST (a wholly unrelated but respectable profession) will gain you greater credibility as an artist; even more so than someone who cannot do anything else BUT art, who has greater talent than you. It’s a skewed little world we live in!

Anyway, the turnover rate for lawyers in Singapore is extremely high I think, especially in big firms. Many lawyers find greater satisfaction in baking, acting, other less technical tasks and enter those professions accordingly after 1-5 years in their firm. I think the only saving grace of doctoring is the fact that you are at least doing something moral, so even if your life is tough, your hours are tough, your job is tough, you may potentially be able to live off that warm fuzzy feeling you get from helping other people.

It takes a long time for Singaporeans to be content with their lot in life. Across different eras of your life, they have invented various commodities/rubrics with which to compare themselves with their fellow wayfarers. Probably in secondary school and JC, your GPA and class standing was important to you. After that, which university you got into, which scholarship you got. After that, how many credits you can cram into your course schedule at uni (and I’m being perfectly serious here, there were plenty of Singaporeans at Cornell who were extremely self-satisfied about doing 30+ credit semesters; and this was made not-so-subtly obvious by their continuous lamenting about the course schedule they foisted upon themselves). After that, the next most obvious things to compare would be who has the best work-life balance, best remuneration, who doesn’t need to stay back from work. And I think doctors lose in all three categories, unless they are super passionate about helping people (which should have manifested when they were younger too, I feel? I am as nonchalant about other people’s problems when I was younger as I am now, at least, about strangers’ problems)

In comparison I get to do math at work, which I love. And I get to write all these blog posts, because my code is compiling, which is pretty awesome. The work is doable (almost easy), people seem sufficiently impressed by it, and some of the people at work are really nice to talk to. If I stay back at work, it’s because work on Fridays ends at 4:30pm and my dinner reservation is at 7pm, and if I were to leave the office I’d have nowhere to go inbetween my office and the restaurant, so I stay in my cubicle :P The remuneration is one of the best (because of the defence budget), and the work is one of the easiest (for me anyway). If I had a good reason (like a young charge), I’d be able to work from home, for less highly classified projects.

I wonder what the turnover rate for the medical profession is, and how many doctors truly believe in their job. Perhaps it is one of those things where you start out indifferent as to the cause, and start to care more about it when you realize the sort of impact your job has. I feel really sorry for all the people who entered the profession cause of its prestige though. Also for lawyers, who only realized posthumously that they didn’t care enough about the status nor for the subject matter to give up their rest, their youth, their time.

10 Lessons

For anyone who wishes to go into Mathematics as a career, here are Ten lessons from Gian-Carlo Rota .

Here are the key points I found interesting (that will hopefully spur you to read the article):
1. Never run overtime when lecturing: think of every 50 minutes as a microcentury.
2. “We all fall prey to the illusion that a listener will find the time to read the copy of the slides we hand them after the lecture. This is wishful thinking.”
3. On publishing the same result several times: “It was clear that Riesz’s publications were few. What is more surprising is that the papers had been published several times. Riesz wold publish the first rough version of an idea in some obscure Hungarian journal. A few years later he would send a series of notes to the French Academy’s Comptes Rendus in which the same material was further elaborated. A few more years would pass, and he would publish the definitive paper, either in French or in English. Adam Koranyi, who took courses with Frederick Riesz, told me that Riesz would lecture on the same subject year after year while meditating on the definitive version to be written. No wonder the final version was perfect.. It may soon be indispensable to present the same result in several versions, each one accessible to a specific group; the price one might have to pay otherwise is to have our work rediscovered by someone who uses a different language and notation and who will rightly claim it as his own”
4. On phenomenology: “It so happens that the fundamental treatises of phenomenology are written in thick, heavy, philosophical German. Tradition demands that no examples ever be given of what one is talking about.” Of course he went on to exemplify the concepts in these volumes and to publish them, which was well received in the field.
5. On not sweating the mistakes in papers: “When the Germans were planning to publish Hilbert’s collected papers and to present him with a set on the occasion of one of his later birthdays, they realized that they could not publish the papers in their original versions because they were full of errors, some of them quite serious. Thereupon they hired a young unemployed mathematician, Olga Taussky-Todd to go over Hilbert’s papers and correct all the mistakes… At last, on Hilbert’s birthday a freshly printed set of Hilbert’s collected papers was presented to the Geheimrat. Hilbert leafed through them carefully and did not notice anything.” Although I feel like in this story it is far more likely that I will end up as Olga than as Hilbert.
6. On giving effusive acknowledgement: “I have always felt miffed after reading a paper in which I felt I was not being given proper credit, and it is safe to conjecture that the same happens to everyone else. One day I tried an experiment. After writing a rather long paper, I began to draft a thorough bibliography. On the spur of the moment I decided to cite a few papers which ahd nothing whatsoever to do with the content of my paper to see what might happen. Somewhat to my surprised, I received letters from two of the authors whose papers I believed were irrelevant to my article. Each of the authors warmly congratulated me for being the first to acknowledge their contribution to the field.
7. On not having your stuff read: “Nowadays reading a mathematics paper from top to bottom is a rare event.” Conclusion? Write longer introductions :P
8. On institutionalization: “You must realize that after reaching a certain age you are no longer viewed as a person. You become an institution, and you are treated the way institutions are treated. You are expected to behave like a piece of period furniture, an architectural landmark, or an incunabulum. It matters little whether you keep publishing or not. If your papers are no good, they will say “What did you expect? He is a fixture!”; and if an occasional paper of yours is found to be interesting, they will say, “What did you expect? He has been working at this all his life!” The only sensible response is to enjoy playing your newly found role as an institution.”