What I’m thinking about

I dreamed last night that I was walking across the country pulling a semi behind me. I have no idea what that was about and I doubt it would be appropriate to talk about here if I did, but it reminds me a bit of where I am in thinking about my next endeavor. Anyone who actually reads through this entire post will probably feel similarly.

Most of the past couple months have gone to rest, travel, general reading and personal development. I haven’t felt like “getting to work” until the last couple weeks. What I have done is pay attention to where my interests have taken me and tried to stay curious about what that might mean for what I do next. In my case, this is kind of a bad idea since I tend to get interested in lots of things and then manage to connect them all together in a way that means I actually need to do all of them. At once.

Probably I’ll need to narrow things back down, but I’m not ready yet to entirely give up my denial about that – for now I’m continuing to explore them all. This post is just a list of the areas I’m looking at. I expect to write more regularly now and will delve more deeply into the various areas as I pursue them.

  • Economics – About 10 years ago I decided that I needed to learn more about economic issues and economics itself. Since then I’ve read lots of news, books and blogs and I’m probably well above average now in terms of economics savvy. But I think it’s time for the next step. Literally everything I’m interested in ties into economics in some way, often very directly, and I want to be able to pursue those ties in my own work. For my purposes, this requires much more than just being able to “think like an economist” – it basically means getting the equivalent of doctoral-level training in economics. Thinking about how to do that led me into the next area of interest …
  • Higher Education – One possible approach to getting PhD-level training in economics would be to get a PhD in economics. And I explored this …  really, I did! However, as my parents pointed out recently, I haven’t been satisfied with doing my education the way schools thought I should since at least the third grade and it finally dawned on me that there’s no particular reason it should be any different now.  Higher education is in the midst of a transformation – why not participate in making that happen? Most of the experimentation going on right now is focused on undergraduate education and a narrow range of fields in professional/graduate education, with a strong focus on vocational preparation and certification. On the other hand, I am more interested in doing research and couldn’t care less about getting a job as an economist or becoming credentialed. Interestingly, as I’ve visited friends over the past couple months, I discovered that two have very similar kinds of interests – advanced study (in their cases, in psychology and physics) in order to undertake research (outside an academic environment) without any absolute need for associated credentials. So I’ve been thinking about how one might go about building some sort of program around this, probably in partnership with universities, with my own economics education as a test case. Definitely not a billion-dollar market, but very possibly a self-supporting non-profit venture. Of course, the theme of interest in doing research that emerged has led me to thinking about …
  • Independent Research – For the last few generations research has largely been seen as something that requires academic credentials and mostly takes place within an academic community. I certainly believe that good research must be built on solid subject-area training, good understanding of proper research methods, and an effective process for evaluating the validity and importance of published results. Our current academically-focused system may have done all this well at some point, but it is at least arguable whether it still does, as this article in The Economist this week underscores. More to the point, there are many more people interested in participating in the grand endeavor of understanding the world than could possibly be incorporated in our academic and other research institutions. Coupled with other shifts, such as the tremendous amount of data publicly available online, easy access to enormous compute resources, the ability to collaborate online in myriad ways, and increasing opportunities in hard and soft sciences to supplement experiment with simulation, I believe there are interesting opportunities to create standards, training and infrastructure both to improve the quality of research generally and to enable greater participation by people who work outside of the traditional academic communities. Incidentally, it’s partly interest in the publication-end of research that motivates my interest in another area …
  • Journalism – This is another industry in the midst of major transformation with all the attendant opportunities for fascinating innovation and spectacular failure. As a voracious consumer of news of all sorts, I’ve been thinking about whether there might be an opportunity to do something here myself. My interest is largely in what I think of as slow news – the kind of reporting that results from either deep investigation or long-term tracking of an issue – rather than breaking stories. In effect, this is also about research, albeit with a different intended audience and the additional question of the underlying business model to support it.
  • Analytics-Driven Decision-Making – This has been a long-time interest of mine. It was a key part of my work at Dell/Quest/VKernel, Class VI and Lab Escape, as well as much earlier work in turbulence modeling and computer chip design optimization. I’m not sure whether I’ll pursue it as part of a research effort or take on another application area in a commercial venture, but I don’t seem to be able to stop thinking about it.
  • Arabic – The big question that remains is: what will I do with all my spare time? I have long wanted to pick up another language and it’s gradually become clear that Arabic has the biggest draw for me. My wife’s theory is that I’m unconsciously attracted to the language of whoever is considered our current “enemy” – in the 70’s that was the Soviet Union and so I learned Russian. Perhaps. In any case, I find the Arabic-speaking world fascinating from all sorts of perspectives and would really like to learn the language. 

So, there you have it … all the stuff I’m thinking about (so far) on what to pursue next.

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One Response to What I’m thinking about

  1. Very ambitious. Your ideas make alot of sense.

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