A New Year

So my medical leave is done, I’m getting back to grad school, and it’s the start of a new year.

It was a really good year, for me. I got a lot of rest. My health improved. I’ve even been medicating my mental illness more, which in the past few months means that I’ve obtained a rather healthy github streak (115 days and counting at the time of writing). I spent a few months curriculum writing for a code school. I’ve made progress on several long-term writing projects, including a book of essays and an intro-to-computer-science book as well as picking away a little bit on my “working while mentally ill” project, and I’ve managed to work on a lot of little side projects, including my rough sketches about what a true privacy oriented social network should look like.

I also finally gave a talk at the Open Source Bridge conference and got a magazine article published, both of which were about explaining the fascinating mathematical limits, and open questions, of computation to a general audience. There’s a lot of pragmatic, useful things that are good to know: that computation exists abstracted away from the particular of any implementation, that there are hard theoretical limits to what a program can do, etc. But one of the completely impractical things I love to bring up is that the relationship between computability and physics has some very weird and fascinating implications for 3D printing. Essentially, if the laws of physics aren’t computable, then there are clear limits to the complexity of a thing that can be constructed in a 3D printer. If the laws of physics are computable, however, then in principle 3D printing has no limits beyond physics itself: any physical system could be created programmatically. Now, this is possibly of more interest for science fiction than engineering any time in the next century, but it’s engaging nonetheless.

One of the big things that happened over this medical leave was realizing just how bad off I had been before. I could fake functionality for brief periods, but often I was having trouble with reading and listening comprehension and with keeping anything in my head for more than a few seconds. A couple of months into this year off I realized that (shock, gasp) I could actually concentrate. I could sit down with a book and read without having to reread the same sentence five times to actually digest it. I could work on something for an hour or so and actually think about it. I could even work on something for several days in a row without forgetting everything I’d been thinking about in the first place. I’ve been wrung out and ill for practically my entire life, so this whole “I can function like a healthy person” thing has just been a revelation. Medicating my panic and my “reality and I aren’t on speaking terms” days has contributed significantly to this discovery. My worst mental health episodes now last for maybe an hour or two at a time instead of days or weeks of being unable to function. It’s still not fun, mind you, but at least I don’t feel like I’m a bad dice-roll away from losing a month or two of my life at any given moment. It’s just a major improvement to be able to have a bad evening or a bad day instead of a bad [arbitray length of time].

The next two terms are going to be incredibly busy. I’m both getting back to teaching courses and actually giving my thesis proposal. I’m not going to lie, I’m probably way more terrified of my thesis proposal than I need to be for someone who already has a clear outline of (1) what I’ve already done (2) what I want to do (3) how I’m going to do it and (4) how it contributes to my field. I keep feeling like I practically need to have my dissertation done before I even give my proposal. Part of making my proposal this spring is that I’m actually rebuilding some of my old unpublished work on higher dimensional type theory (now that I can do something about the panic attacks it can give me). I already started doing that this last month and it’s been going great. I think I’m actually going to get these papers out there, finally finally finally. This is work I haven’t been able to touch in over three years because I was working on it around the time I was assaulted in 2012, the last real time I was productive until this year off. The panic attacks have come every time I’ve tried to reconstruct all of it because it pushes bad buttons associated with how suicidal and scared and messed up I was at that time, because brains are stupid.

In regards to this blog, I’m going to try and have a Tue/Thu publishing schedule. I’m going to avoid making the same mistakes as before and just publish something on my scheduled days, even if it’s not as in-depth as I’d like. To that end, by the time this post is published I’ve already built up a bit of a buffer in case I have some extra busy weeks.

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