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The secret of academic success, or fun filled failure if you prefer (billwadge.wordpress.com)
239 points by herodotus 57 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 93 comments



>> When they hire you, they’re convinced at first that they’ve made a great choice. This honeymoon period lasts about six months at which point their attitude flips and they become convinced that they hired a bozo

True of almost every job!!! There could be many reasons to why this happens, I can only speculate given all the hiring strategies, the interviewing jujitsu and what not, it might be an NP category problem.


Familiarity breeds contempt.

One thing to understand, from a meditative pov, society and its industry is unconscious Ego dynamics. Its full of projection, and mostly people playing out unresolved trauma.

The unconscious Ego is mostly good at choose(Like, Dislike) and has very little regard for the human underneath, since, especially in form of an Institution/Company, it cant see its own humanity.

This is why people sound authentic in person, but start to act out draconian aggression fantasies as a collective, which starts with the creeping disenchantment - Alot like many and most young human relationship.


> Familiarity breeds contempt.

This is actually encoded into a common expression in Nothern Sotho. In the infinitive go tlwaela the meaning is to get use to or to grow accustomed to something. But when you say O a ntlwaela, as in: "You are getting used to me," you are actually telling the person that they are being contemptuous.

In fact, this principle is so well developed in the Northern Sotho language that you can even use the phrase for someone that is not in fact accustomed to you. For example, I was at the recycling site the other day and this guy came up to me and was pissed that I came in and didn't do what he wanted me to do (which could have been a fair objection) but he also as a side remark called me racist. To which I responded, "O a ntlwaela." In context, what I am really saying would be that he is stereotyping me. His response, realising he made a mistake, was to just deny it without substantiation, as in "Ke go tlwaela bjang?" Essentially he was saying: "How am I being familiar with you?"

The answer was of course that he was calling me racist because I reminded him of someone else; i.e., a steriotype he was used to. In any case, I did not point this out any further and just left.


Me and my partner are working on actually hacking this to increase love, respeft abd compassion in our relationship.

I am discovering that i can only love her as deeply as i can love myself - what you said about the “getting used to” - i will Forward to her. In a way, we must never get used to each other. And that’s deep work ...

Sorry you also were victim of projection .. its tge mechanism that holds us hostage as a species - and threatens us with war even. My ex called me sexist and racist as well - i knew she was a good person, and i know i wasnt those things, and i even understood her father trauma which made her say those things, but it still hurts. Its our job to contain all this .. it really helps growth. Did you consider reading books about children upbringing psychology? Its very helpful!


> children upbringing psychology

Is this psychology that focuses on when you were a child and how you were raised (as opposed to child psychology)?


Mhmm, im not a complete expert. Just a dude who reads books.

I understand child paychology i in the “playing and imagination” - attachment theory model -

What i actually meant is a rott parenting book, something such as the informed parent perhaps! A friend sweats by NLP, but i find it dubios myself.


> One thing to understand, from a meditative pov, society and its industry is unconscious Ego dynamics. Its full of projection, and mostly people playing out unresolved trauma.

Not sure about meditative pov's, sounds rather like psychoanalysis, but this simple model has a lot of truth behind it. However we should note not everyone is trapped in an immature emotional state. There's plenty of grown-ups and cooler heads out there too. Academia is a rather solitary field, people can avoid talking to each other most of the time if they want. So the immature can still thrive. And of course if they can keep it together till they get tenured, we're stuck with them. Industry is often different. If someone can't work well with others there is mounting pressure to get rid of them.

I don't know that a collective of engineers and software developers would behave quite so primitively. Defense lawyers, for example, try to keep them off juries because they are often impossible to sway out of their analytical opinions using emotional appeals.


I think your industrial experience is a bit different than mine - but i must say even in mine, i think the toxicity was the result of high yearly % growth (50%+) and the new guys made the older guys nervous.

HR seems to me to be uniformally draconian-leaning. Ironically, our HR manager tells us of her nightmare job at IBM. EA well known either, and niether are the IT fabs, though its not exatly IT.

I think youre right though, and the evidence to that is that we still sort of function, as opposed to be burning this thing down. Though it sometimes seems it might happen. Heh!


> Familiarity breeds contempt.

And it goes both ways. It is quite common to start a new gig being energetic and enthusiastic. Even chores feel not that bad and even interesting. Fast forward 6 months and the enthusiasm wanes, everything starts looking quotidian and boring. I guess humans are just fond of shiny new stuff.


"Familiarity breeds contempt."

Maybe if you are aware of it, you can control it?

"Nobody is a prophet in their own land", is another thing that comes to mind.

Why did we evolve this way? I can't think of obvious reasons. I understand the phenomenon and I've seen it in close families (people that are capable of respecting others, are not respectful to their own blood family members).


Yes, this is what i have learned. Doing this with my partner. We both are aware, and trying hard. I joke and call it ego hacking. In my professional life i developed a very unique approach, i try to remain authentic, and show alot of understanding when people mess up. Sort of leading by example. Some friends say i let things go, that they would sue over.

And well, from my underatanding? Its the result of sentience - every sensing organ we have is connected to that big brain, and the systems compete for decision making. Negative tends to win since it proved protective thus far.

And addendum, we also evolved the ability to see pur own bullshit, but are sort of struggling with mastering it (called it religion, we allow it to get corrupted by power, etc) - but i can say for sure that meditation works.


There are lots of counterexamples: we are familiar with plenty that we do not regard with contempt.

For instance, ice cream, the fresh blue sky and panda bears.

I would revise that as "gradual discovery of the full extent of the contemptible traits of something is predictably associated with a rise in contempt".


This is worth a separate post, as there's a lot to unpack here.


I think the key is just:

> Familiarity breeds contempt.

This alone explains the "honeymoon period" without introducing unconscious aggregate Egos of companies or societies.


Or as Ivan Karamasov said, 'One can only love strangers'


How do I go about resolving this trauma?


Id recommend a vipassana with a compassionate teacher.

Our traumas want to be experienced and looked at. But we learned the art of unconscious repression so we can “function” - no one tells you the price is being unknowingly sent to a near literal hell.

Climbing out on Jacob’s ladder is always an open option. Dune’s Qum J’bbar is real, and a vipassana is a good place to start.


Reversion to the mean. If it's not someone you know well, you are hiring them based on a limited dataset. You are likely to get the outliers, eg people who happened to remember how to implement Dijkstra's algorithm. Or people who were above average, plus they guessed right on some of the multiple choice questions. Whatever selection you choose, there's gonna be noise, and some people will benefit from it.

Once you hire them, you end up with more information and there's gonna be a tendency for it to be clear that they don't know everything.


I can say firsthand how real & vicious local politics can be in academic institutions.

I made the mistake of openly questioning the research funding of a new professor I began working under in undergrad. It turned out he was the only one who taught the last 2 courses I needed for my CS degree. He took it all very personally. Nearly a 4.0 , success in math & programming competitions for the college, research, none of it mattered. I never finished my CS degree because of those 2 coursse. Years later I went to talk to him about it candidly, hoping I could just keep my head down and finish. But it didn't work.


Why not take the course, submit high quality assignments, and when bad marks come back, appeal to a higher faculty member?

Comp sci is fairly objective - it would be very hard for him to give you a failing mark for exceptionally high quality work in a way he wouldn't be reprimanded for.


Depending on where he lives or studies, that wouldn't even be a choice let alone a realistic option to pursue.

For one, if there is a shortage of good professors (which there is and if he is one), I can bet you some schools would trash the student without a thought if professor threatens them.

Playing legal battles afterwards isn't something available for most poor students.

Though, that's my experience here. Done a biting before and I won't again. I will just secretly record everything and make it look really bad, then viral it after leaving college. I have learnt to pretend to follow popular opinions, thinking etc because otherwise it ends up as a disadvantage position for you.

What I would do now is ask a few open ended generic questions which will lead to person expressing a lot of what they care about, make a profile and never step on those. Be contradictory on issues the other person is unsure of, helps stay authentic.

I noticed I can sow huge doubts in people when it comes to choosing clothing even if I am the only person in a group of 5, they will start rethinking their choices in the head but for something related to their work or moral dilemmas, it's not easy.


Student has right to ask for commisional exam and result is a grade - they don't decide on punishment to professor nor fairness. It is strictly test of knowledge once you go this way.

You don't need to play massive legal battles and shortage of professors is less of factor due to there not being a risk of professor being fired.

As for secretly recording everything, make sure it is legal where you live.


> Depending on where he lives or studies, that wouldn't even be a choice let alone a realistic option to pursue.

> For one, if there is a shortage of good professors (which there is and if he is one), I can bet you some schools would trash the student without a thought if professor threatens them.

This could be different for the university in question, but every school I've been at cares deeply about 4 year graduation rates. If a professor fails a student, that triggers a system of investigations and they need to file a bunch of paperwork backing up their decision.


I've done something like this (don't want to go in details), and although I deserved an A with 100% accuracy etc. I got B.

And she (the professor) said "hope that teaches you a lesson". Also there were 4 different professors present. They all "took her side". It's just what they would do in all cases.

It doesn't matter if it's maths (something that is absolutely objective) or philosophy.

Anyway, some people are just small and with fragile egos, regardless of whether they are in academia or CEO's or anything.


I can only imagine the level of hardship on the test the professor would go to achieve his objective of failing you...


Unless you’re the only student in a class others would get the same test or assignment.


It's fine to offend in some contexts, but the author sounds like a douche. He wouldn't like it much if another researcher wrote an article taking a massive dump on his work, would he? It's basic manners.

Don't say the authors are wrong. Say they take a 'singular view'. Or 'it is arguable that...'. Or 'their results contradict X'. It's fine to critique, but no need to be an ass about it.

As for the seminar - most definitely the fault of the faculty. Anyone should be able to attend a seminar. The clue is in the entymology - 'university' = 'universal'.


The author make it sound like his first issue was some super-subtle academic social detail.

But he was simply being personally abusive to people! Building up a long, sarcastic, mocking rant, going so far as to call people names. I'd be motified if someone addressed me like this.

Of course people objected to it! They would to in any industry or social situation!

> never criticize

You can criticize, just not be abusive and mocking!


It seems the writing that he was referring to is this: https://billwadge.wordpress.com/2020/02/06/honest-wes-just-f...

I'm not really seeing where that could have been offensive. Its easy to disagree with, of course, but was it attacking anyone?


> no need to be an ass about it

I disagree. Sometimes people used to everyone walking eggshells around them need a jolt of assholishness.


Perhaps, but being the decider about who does and who doesn’t deserve some assholishness is the heart of what an asshole is. Someone who disregards the wishes and feelings of another. Like if you said you like asparagus and I said “you should like broccoli, it’s better”, if we weren’t buddies like you that and I wasn’t your nutritionist :).


This is true, but it comes at the cost of diminished influence for the person doing the assholery.


Saying that some people need to be subjected to abuse is a terrible point of view.


Abuse is a heavily loaded word, and as an aside, I hate the cheapening of language in modern times. Assault is another that's getting cheapened. Someone bluntly telling another "you're dead wrong" isn't abuse IMO.

But to your main point, I've seen my share of the polite leading the polite. If there is a general level of competence, fine, work can still proceed. But often, workplaces need an asshole who will voice their opinion in blunt language. There are moments when diplomacy causes, at best, avoidable delays, but at worst completely fucked projects.


There is massive difference between "you are wrong" and mocking someone. Both deserve different response - when someone mocks you it is perfectly ok to mock back or ignore that person. Which is what people do. Mocking makes you asshole.

Workplaces don't need assholes. People who reasinably criticise are not assholes.


Bluntness is considered rude in most societies I'm familiar with. Not good either.

As another aside, I feel this is the problem with downvoting. It is a blunt criticism in a society where criticism must be delivered cautiously to avoid offense.


If you are talking about "pathetic inadequacy of the contributions" then the contributions better really be inadequate and pathetic. Only then it is bluntness or "telling it like it is".

And most often, those contributions were normal or even state of art when they have been made - making accusation not so much blunt. Instead, it is appeal to emotions, an attempt to leverage funy sounding expression for own goal.

And it is only fair when people respond to it in kind.


I disagree.

First you calling being blunt abuse.

Second your thinking a terrible point of view that some people should be subjected to abuse. Some people should be physically abused. Joshua Milton Blahyi, David Parker Ray, Rodrigo Duterte are good examples.

Often the only power you have is your speech. If people are offended when shown how shitty they are, it's on them. Stop coddling real abusers under the cover of professionalism or political correctness.


> Some people should be physically abused.

I think that's completely morally wrong. The only exception is if someone else is physically at risk and you are protecting them.


This article doesn't reflect my experience in academia (but I was in a different field/country). Success is highly corollated with the quality of your publications (and your ability to gather money and students to write them), not so much local politics. I found local politics to be important for administrative careers.

> That’s it. Stay positive, never criticize. That’s the secret.

That applies to other fields too. Actually, I was an academic and switched to the software industry. I feel that a somewhat sensitive part of the job is trying not hurt anyone's feeling. Could be when reviewing code, or discussing technical choices, or company orientation.


> This article doesn't reflect my experience in academia...

Nor mine (also in a different field and country). It does, though, reflect how some academics, especially younger ones, seem to view academia: as a politicized, factionalized battle of personalities. More than once I've had a junior colleague who perceived himself or herself to be a victim of such a battle when in fact the reason for their failure to get a contract renewal, promotion, tenure, or lighter teaching load was mere bureaucratic inflexibility or budgetary constraints and had nothing to do with them personally. The way the blogger hedges his account—“to my best guess,” “probably,” “it appears”—suggests to me that he might have been reading too much into his situation as well.


Students who make good use of the initial momentum in school are best candidates for academia. It's hard to self-start or do alone. Very few succeed in pushing boundaries alone.


Heh, I took a couple classes from Bill back at UVic and, being young and full of myself, I occasionally pointed out mistakes in his teaching in front of all the other students. Luckily, unlike the faculty in his story, he never took personal offense. :)


The primary fun filled failure, https://billwadge.wordpress.com/2020/02/06/honest-wes-just-f..., is a pretty neat excerpt I had never read before, especially as one who toes that Wizard approach towards formal verification.


Thanks for linking to this, it was a good read :)

The author seems like a cool (IMO) guy who is a bit insecure about whether he’s supposed to be seeking people’s approval or what. I couldn’t handle the status-seeking and other social dynamics of academia, so I became an entrepreneur.


For those who don't know, he is an esteemed computer scientist who created the Lucid dataflow language with Ed Ashcroft. Much praised by Alan Kay among others.


It's surprising how well that holds up. I feel like I recognized all those types intimately.


The Walrus operator should set things straight! (I lold)


Second story tries too much to read into minds of people who probably did not liked the talk - and somehow finds worst possible interpretation despite there not being much signal to lean that way.

For example, it is quite possible to not like talk that had too much beginner content in it, without the issue being personal offense on graduate presence. I find it pretty normal to not want to listen to beginner content - matching content to primary audience is a thing.

And it is possible for some people to like talk and others dislike it without anyone being massive asshole.

The "you can read another book" should probably be taken as feedback (even as it was not the most direct or polite way to phrase it) rather then mortal insult.


I recently read something interesting about how to take insults:

> When we encounter insults from other people, we must deal with them with reason rather than anger. Either the insult is true, in which case we should be grateful for the insulter for pointing out this area in which we could improve, or it is false, in which case we should pity the insulter for his lack of accurate perception.

- Pete Adeney


"If a person gave your body to any stranger he met on his way, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to verbally attack you?"

-Epictetus


Sadly being a jerk can be a vicious cycle. With rising anger and bitterness about how poorly your contributions are received, it may be virtually impossible to present a smiling and upbeat facade to the world—when you're tired, when you're stressed, in a job interview for example or after making a presentation. So for all those here who think "don't be a jerk" is a valid defence for their own unwillingness to brook criticism, just think how many promising careers, then lives, are destroyed by this mechanism.


It's true, but it's also a test of your inner strength.

Can you be a good person even after enduring pure evil?

I find that particularly puzzling and I hold people that are capable of good (after being betrayed etc. by the world) in high esteem.


> It took me a long while to figure out what (to my best guess) happened. Certain colleagues were offended that I’d encouraged a bunch of undergraduates to show up at a research seminar.

Is it not also possible that the author failed to emphasize which parts were new in the talk? A lot of talks start by describing deficiencies in the state of the art. But maybe he needed to give so much background that he couldn’t make that clear, and the audience was left uncertain.


This is very weird (the seminar thing). In my university the professors would be extremely happy to see a talk where undergraduates could and do attend.


I had the same thought. As an undergraduate, I went to some of the interesting-sounding seminars given by grad students. It was a great way to get to learn something interesting and also get to know your professors.

I have to admit, however, that I was usually the only undergrad in attendance.


The takeaway from the first story is simple: don't be a jerk.

It's harder to find a takeaway from the second story. How do you in general avoid making whatever mistakes Bill supposedly made with his seminar?


He was a new person being asked to do something new to him that literally everyone else around him had previously done. It's not rocket science, ask the opinion of the more experienced people around you. The message from the first story is identical to the message from the first - recognise the value of other people's work.


> It's not rocket science, ask the opinion of the more experienced people around you.

You assume that being humble and acting in good faith will get you ahead in academic politics. From firsthand (but not personal) experience, sometimes you can do everything right and people will still get offended. You'll find no evidence of what went wrong, trying to piece together the event sequence after the fact, much like OP's experience. Of course, OP went out of their way to offend, I don't recommend that.

Academics tend to minimize risk [1]. If you try to interpret their behavior outside of that context, you will find it inscrutable, because not only are they playing in a different league, they aren't even playing the same game [1].

[1] much like C suites


Knowing the culture and relative status dynamics would have helped. Undergrads are lower than the worms beneath your feet as faculty, and shouldn't be invited to faculty gatherings lest they drool on the carpet.

By not figuring out what the faux pas's are for the local ecosystem, he was setting himself up for failure. If it wasn't this talk it would have been something else.


Are they? As an undergrad I thought my professors were silly folks who got suckered into making a huge effort on obscure facts when they could easily make the same salary with less energy in software/IT. When a prof I did research with behaved rudely to me I just quit his lab and got someone else to write grad school letters for me. Academically all but the best undergrads know basically nothing, but looking down on them seems like you’ll soon have lab a labor shortage to me, especially in CS.


undergrads don't bring in grant money, but do cost time (teaching). From a university 'business' point of view, they are a net loss.

Grants are a big thing in academia.


In the UK it's exactly the opposite. Here's the best case (UCL - a super research intensive university): https://www.ucl.ac.uk/students/fees-and-funding/how-ucl-uses... Most other universities rely far more on teaching. Tuition fees also have the advantage that they are constant and relatively easy to predict while grants last a few years at best (and of course you do have to >do< something with them so they are not pure profit. Broadly, grants are the delicious froth on top of the tuition fee latte.


It’s not always true. I know an undergrad who had a conference paper out in a direction a PI could use in grant writing.


My takeaway/tldr: Act in a way that makes your colleagues (potentially future colleagues) feel smart.


The seminar story is sort of the opposite; dazzle and confuse them with your genius by giving bad talks no one can understand, or else they won't respect you. But both regard dealing with massive egos, a common problem in research.


A good seminar should have a lengthy introduction at a level somewhat below the general level of knowledge in the room and then transition into showing off how clever your approach is. The first part is critical because it makes everyone feel smart. The second part is critical because it shows everyone that you are smart.


I think the lesson is "Read the room". Different types of seminars have different purposes.

For some, it is indeed desirable to dazzle and confuse. In others, to be approachable.


This seems counter to almost every CS hiring job talk I have attended.

The professors almost always seem to be receptive of people who lay down the basics for everyone in the room, and then systematically place their work using this newly situated academic landscape.

I mean, how is a databases professor supposed to understand a SOTA CNN, if they don't understand CNNs to begin with.

Maybe OP was simply stuck in the wrong (or right) kind of toxic workplace.


I can see that perspective too. I had interpeted it as "don't make it seem that our research (via seminar talks) can be understood by undergrads!"


This lines up with my own experience and with advice I've read about "being successful." Essentially that, until you're at the top of the food chain, credit should always be deflected upward. Personally I bump up against the idea that it is good to do that in all situations, however, I have yet to find myself in one.


And making people think that you're a wise-ass is better than making them think that you're stupid.

P.S: Exile to UK seems lit fam.


Nice reference to being seen as a bozo, presumably a la "Don't flip the bozo bit" from Jim McCarthy’s rule No. 4 in Dynamics of Software Development, explained well here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/08/13/th...


"Bozo" as a word for an incompetent person has been around for a long time: "bozo (slang) A stupid, foolish, or ridiculous person, especially a man. [from 1910s]" (Source: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bozo)


I guess the obvious reference is Bozo, the clown...


creating good will costs little but pays off a lot when you eventually F something up and can draw from it for forgiveness

apart from that, not being an asshole is its own reward


I think there are two different issues. On one hand, if you haven't received much blunt criticism in your life, you might not notice when your own criticism comes across as blunt. On the other hand, if you're used to an environment where blunt criticism is no big deal, and then move to an environment where everyone walks on eggshells, it can be hard to adjust. But if people gave and received more criticism in general, both of these issues would go away, so that's what I would prefer.


The author found "yeah you can read another book" to be mortal insult, so there is factor of asymetry in how he criticises others vs how he wants to be talked to.


To the contrary, he didn't even realize what it meant when it was said to him. It was only much later that he realized it was intended derogatorily.


>> That’s it. Stay positive, never criticize. That’s the secret.

This seems to work in a lot of fields, optimism being confused competence really fascinates me


Now I'm curious about the CLM he wouldn't go into.


Great life lesson shared

in just eight paragraphs of blog.

Too easy to miss.


The OP is talking academic secrets and essentially office politics. I've had some experience with such secrets and getting around the politics so will chip in!

(1) Some Academic Ground Rules

Some high end research universities state that the requirement for a Ph.D. dissertation is "an original contribution to knowledge worthy of publication", and the usual criteria for publication are "new, correct, and significant".

(2) Career Secret

In technical careers, say, based on math and computing, there is almost always more money to be make in making valuable applications of such knowledge than in research creating such knowledge. Moreover, for the goals of financial security or even to be financially responsible and to be able to buy a house, have two late model cars, support a wife and family, have a valuable IRA, etc., it can be tough to meet these goals as a prof doing research and much easier making valuable applications.

(3) A Career Success

I was a ugrad math major but by luck stumbled on to a cute fact: There was and likely still is good money to be made applying math, physics, and computing to problems in US national security around DC. So, at the time, some of the math was numerical integration, root finding, numerical linear algebra, the fast Fourier transform, power spectral estimation, digital filtering, lots of applied statistics, numerical solutions of the Navier-Stokes equations, max-min and game theory for the SSBN fleet, etc. My annual salary was six times the cost of a new, high end Camaro.

The success was an example of (2) of more money from applications than academic research.

So a lesson: With math and computing, to make more money, concentrate on valuable applications and not academic research. Further, do this where there are powerful customers with deep pockets for solutions to technical problems -- e.g., US national security around DC.

(4) An Academic Success

I was getting paid so well for what I knew in math and computing that I wanted to learn more so went for a Ph.D. Then right away, as in the OP, politics hit me.

Then I stumbled onto a solution: I saw a math problem (a tricky issue in the Karush-Kuhn-Tucker conditions), asked for a "reading course", maybe not to get a solution but just study the problem. Two weeks later I found a solution that was clearly publishable (later did publish in JOTA).

Presto, bingo, secret discovered: The original work gave me a shiny halo and a Kevlar suit of armor against any and all obstacles, especially political.

Technically from (1), the work was enough for a Ph.D. dissertation.

Lesson: As a Ph.D. student, ASAP do some research that meets the criteria in (1).

(5) Another Academic Secret

Get a Ph.D. in an engineering school and not in a school of arts and sciences. I.e., get a Ph.D. in applied math for some engineering and not pure math without clear applications.

So, for a dissertation, start with an important practical problem got likely from outside academics. Then use some old pure and new applied math to get a valuable solution. Then, since the practical problem has likely not already been solved well, the work will be "new". Since the problem is important and the solution valuable, get "significant". Since the core of the work is some math with theorems and proofs, it is relatively easy to be check the work and, then, be "correct". Since the problem is from outside academics, your profs might not know about its practical details and, thus, can't easily criticize. Also generally the university might like the idea that you are trying to make money because otherwise they can't even hope that you will donate a lot of money!

(6) Business Secret

Currently there is an historic business opportunity: E.g., for less than $2000 in parts, as a Web server I plugged together a mid-tower case computer with an AMD FX-8350 processor with 64 bit addressing, eight cores, and a standard 4.0 GHz clock, an Asus motherboard, 16 GB of error correcting coding (ECC) main memory (both the processor and the motherboard support ECC), several TB of rotating disk, Windows 7 Professional, etc. So, computer hardware and software for operating systems, middle-ware, utilities, etc. are cheap and powerful. In addition the Internet spans nearly all the world, and data rates of 1 Gbps are readily available in the US.

Since these cheap, powerful resources have not yet been fully exploited, there should be opportunities to make significant bucks.

Next, one of the standard remarks is, for success, good problem selection is important:

Well, then, broadly can provide new, valuable information. Using some pure and new applied math can help get more valuable information.

Then with all of that, also pick a problem can solve as a sole, solo founder funded from own checkbook. An example is the Canadian romantic matching Web site Plenty of Fish -- one guy, two old Dell servers, Windows with .NET, ASP.NET, and ADO.NET, ads just from Google, and $10 million a year in revenue. Later he added staff and sold out for IIRC $575 million.

Points: Here we have an example of (2), valuable practical applications instead of academic research. As a self-funded sole, solo founder, get to avoid office politics, co-founder disputes, and venture capital firms and get to own 100% of the company.


To be sure... the main message here is don't be a jerk, treat people w/ respect, and try to be humble...EVEN if you're right and someone else is wrong! These aren't tough principles and they're not exclusive to academia - they are universal.


I think that the real message is that a little political finesse (some call "social IQ") goes a long way, and the lack of it can hold you back.

If you're thinking to yourself, "but I was never the most socially capable," that's OK, here are some instructions for your logical-and-not-naturally-social brain to execute: Try to be positive with others, give credit where it's due (or will encourage someone else), withold criticism unless the situation truly calls for it. We all want to feel good about ourselves - a simple and easy way to be politically savvy is to be a source of positivity for others.


To take it further, even if you're clearly right in your own frame of reference you still need to recognize that the other person may also be right in theirs. Unless you fully understand someone's frame of reference you don't really know if they're right or not.


Correct! Unfortunately, this doesn't apply to the second half. Maybe it's a bit more that's necessary.


Stories like these confirm my experience that academia is in a sorry state and ripe for disruption. I'm a firm believer that you are only as good as your last recent work. Enough of these inflated egos that haven't published anything interesting in a decade, or whose one claim to fame was a matter of luck.


Are you criticising Bill Wadge in particular? His Ph. D thesis led to one of the widely studied notions in descriptive set theory [1]. He switched to computer science and made a lot of contributions to CS and AI [2]

If you are talking about disrupting academia in general, I am partly with you. There are academic have-beens, but the "disruption" might be tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bath water. I don't know of any decent way of distinguishing an academic who is currently stuck while trying to make progress, from an academic who is truly academically dead.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadge_hierarchy

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucid_(programming_language)


Wadge is retired and his stories are over 30 years old. So perhaps academia used to be in a sorry state. It still is, and it used to be, too...?


As an undergrad in CS I can say that that politics limit your moves, at least where I live. So the answer is YES.


Academia is full of politics, but in the same time, only a handful of people can continuously keep publishing groundbreaking work. Most of the work published is average or even worse - useless. Groundbreaking discoveries don't happen often.


> Stories like these confirm my experience that academia is in a sorry state and ripe for disruption.

Can we maybe find our way to looking at something from a different perspective than this?

"My marriage is in a sorry state and ripe for disruption". wut?




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