Whiteboard Madness

I was scanning through my photos yesterday, distracting myself from some less-than-awesome things that have been happening around me since I got back from my epic adventure with Rick, and I stumbled on a bunch of math-y type pictures that I hadn’t seen in quite some time.  Most of the pictures were taken over the course of my Ph.D., although some were related to my Post Doc1.  Let me explain:

This is the only photo that I could find that has me even remotely close to a chalkboard or whiteboard. It was taken at the final trial run for my Ph.D. Defence.

During the many years that I spent getting all edu-ma-cated, I learned among other things that I love working at a chalkboard or whiteboard.  I’m not quite sure why this is the case.  Perhaps it’s the feeling I get when I stand in front of the boards, faced with a giant empty canvas on which to collect my thoughts.  Perhaps it’s the act of bounding from one board to the next, jotting down matrices, integrating functions, or proving theorems.  Perhaps it’s the overall Good-Will-Hunting-ness of the situation.  Or perhaps it’s a little bit of all of these things.  Or maybe, just maybe, I really, really like the smell of whiteboard dry-erase marker and chalk dust.

Honestly though, I think it’s the pulling-up-my-sleeves-and-getting-my-hands-dirty sort of feeling that I get when I stand in front of such a canvas.  There is something romantic about working at the board (chalk or white).  I don’t mean romantic in the hey-board-how-you-doin’ kind of way, but romantic in the sense of history, and nostalgia, and creativity, and inspiration, and possibility.  I would often wonder, when standing at the chalkboard-cum-mathematical-and-statistical-altar, what other minds had offered their ideas on the very chalkboard that I had selected as my scratch pad.  What great discoveries were made right there, on that blank slate?  I would fantasize that I might also discover something monumental, and that History would remember this chalkboard as relevant to that moment in time when I had my Eureka moment.  And then I’d think about all the minds and ideas that would come after me.  What might they contribute?

Anyway, the point is, I love working on a chalkboard or whiteboard.  I feel that it helps to get my creative mathematical and statistical thoughts a-flowing.  And truth be told, all of the major breakthroughs that I had with my thesis typically happened, you guessed it, at the chalkboard.

So why the pictures?  Well, it was often the case that my breakthroughs also came during periods in time when I was the most tired.  Less-than-4-hours-of-sleep-on-a-regular-basis tired.  Stupid tired.  Really, really, stupid tired.  During these times, there was no way that I would ever count on my brain to remember anything.  So you can imagine that any attempts on my part to remember how a formula was derived, what trick I used to solve an equation, or how I proved a crucial element of my Ph.D., would be futile.  It was definitely not a job that I would leave to the responsibility of my brain.  I think you see where this is going.  So as not to lose a single thought, equation, missed attempt, or satisfying victory, I took to snapping photos of everything.  As such, I now have a set of these math-y type photos in my collection.  I present some of those math-y photos to you now.

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Note that some of these photos represent equations/solutions that ultimately ended up in my thesis.  Others were dead ends; unsuccessful attempts at proving various things that required proving.  And others were just plain dumb.


1 Which was really a Pre Doc, as I worked on it at the same time as I was finishing up my Ph.D. Technically one can’t be post doctorate, if one hasn’t yet achieved the title of doctorate.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. You have very clear handwriting! I have loved blackboards since my first teaching gig back in the 80s when we had these fantastic double-decker blackboards with real oak wood trim around them. I have been looking for one of those big portable ones to use in my classroom when I get tired of the smart board and white board. I love chalk!

    1. dangillis says:

      Thanks. Chalk rocks. Also, I was just checking out your blog and it’s hilarious. I’ve added you to my list of Bloggy Goodness.

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