SVPCA and the energising power of academic meetings

Not physically of course, as the constant attention through the day, combined with late discussions and socializing leaves one physically drained (I know I’m not the only one that part way through a conference starts finding hiding places during coffee breaks!).

But as I often do after conferences, I’ve returned feeling like I can accomplish much if I only I sit down and get on with it (e.g. a blog post!).

Some of the talks and posters made me want to run to a computer and just get on with stuff.  Chris Basu’s talk made me want to go and render everything in Maya and make beautiful figures (his Sivatherium render certainly put my visuals to shame!). Colin Palmer’s talk on pterosaur flight made me want to go put some time into OpenSimm so I can work with him and colleagues and do cool Pterosaur things, but I have a whole list of things I need to get done before I can start something new like that.

I’ve about half a dozen projects on the go at various stages, and even with those that are at a conceptual stage SVPCA has made me feel that with just a few weeks solid work, I could get something submitted, and then I can get my research presented and start all the other exciting projects.

Except…  They’ve been at that stage for some time, and I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that holds me back.  I’ve been told previously that I generally don’t get paralyzed by multiple projects, but that seems to be exactly what’s happening now.  Maybe I’ve just exceeded a threshold, but I think it’s more than that.

My time at Brown and the RVC, with really good mentors, really instilled in me the importance of thinking through, but I think I’m thinking through too much. I can see the multiple end points (as papers or grants), but working backwards from those end points towards where I am, everything keeps branching, so that by the time I get to what lays in front of me, I have a hundreds of tasks that need completing.

An example is a small simulation task I’ve said I’ll do for a paper being led by someone else:

  • I can see the end goal, is the visualization of the simulation.
    • To visualize the simulation I need to run it
      • But to run it I need to get the animated data from Maya (in x, y, z, translations and rotations) into the simulation software (as translation + axis-angle rotation).
        •  The current script I have (for the XROMM guineafowl) currently converts Rx,Ry,Rz to axis-angle [the effort that was!], but only for cylinders. The version I have for more complex objects has a bug.
          • If I’m fixing that bug though, I may as well move the code over from Matlab into Maya to ‘remove the middle-man’, because for complex objects I’ll need to use Maya to export them anyway (as Matlab is currently generating STL files of cylinders through the script).
          • Except I need to find the bug either before or after I port the code.
          • And my MEL/Python scripting experience is much more limited than Matlab, so I’ll need to learn a whole new coding language.
    • I also need to use a supercomputer to run it, but my current supercomputer grant is running out and I need another, the deadline for that is Monday, so that now needs to take precedence over running the simulation on the remaining time I have.
      •  But, that grant will actually be based on a different, footprint-related piece of work I have planned, so I need to get preliminary data for that and think about footprints, not the project I started this example with.

And on it goes… A ‘small’ task suddenly becomes a multi-layered complex problem that may take weeks.  And of course during those weeks all the other projects are getting abandoned. In this case, and many others, I find that I have to finish one project (the grant writing) before I can get on with the one that I need to get on with (the simulation task), and the result is that I can make a list sorted by priority, but items lower down are dependencies for items higher up the list.

There is of course only one answer, and that is to chip away where I can and get something done, instead of making lists and thinking about the whole project.

But that’s where conferences like SVPCA make you feel good about research – they drag you away from going around in circles chipping away at bits, and let you take a larger overview of your own work and the community into which it is a part, and for 4 glorious days you can see how your research might look when it’s done without getting bogged down by details.


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