Peter Krautzberger on the web

Talking, really, about work

Yesterday I was driving up to Northeim to pick up some Sandkastensand (because people had actually cleaned out the other store’s 150 25kg packs – are you kidding me). While in my car, I was listening to this conversation on DLF, featuring a writer notable for her children’s books. I didn’t know her though I’ll try to get my hands on her collection of new translations of English poems (for children).

What struck me about the conversation was the nature of the discussion. I suppose a good example was a ever so slightly sharp turn in the conversation when it came to the translation of a Lewis Carroll poem which, in its new translation, featured a Porsche – an anachronism that met criticism from the host.

What caught my ear was how these two talked eye-to-eye, the host displaying in-depth knowledge not only of literature in general but the guest’s work in particular. This allowed them to discuss how the writer worked, the real essence of her work, the challenges, the modus operandi. (What also made me wonder was the precarity of the writer; the collection came out of her PhD work, the first book seemed only a success in so far as it landed her some prize/stipend that allowed her to write the second book. Literary careers always sound like scientific research careers, yet we keep things separated.)

I’ve always yearned for the equivalent of an art critic (which the host evidently provided) but for math and science. One of my first blog posts ever was about mediocrity and, in may ways, critics are the perfect example of why mediocrity is [pun not averted] critical. Instead of pretending to pursue “high” art/science/math a critic is helping their field by providing constructive (and when necessary destructive) review. In public. We do not have this for STEM. Yet the discussion between those two was as esoteric to me as a discussion about forcing axioms or JavaScript libraries would be to them. Of course, German Feuilleton (oh my, I had no idea about contemporary meaning in French) assumes none of its work is esoteric but features 0% of real science criticism (let alone math).

Skip back a few years. My only comment left on (no link because I can’t find it and because carta has become quite strange) was a foolish, troll-like comment (confirming Hanlon’s razor, it was out of stupidity) where I wondered why DLF’s Presseschau never included quotes from blogs, since I clearly had (and have) the impression political bloggers are on par with those strange, small-town newspapers that make it into that selection of op eds. (IIRC, there’s now some minor tech segment on DLF that features some blog posts; oh well.)

Over the past year I started to listen to more and more podcasts, primarily about web technology, i.e., work (it all started with the excellent Shoptalkshow). Listening to the conversation on DLF, I realized two things. First, technology podcasts provide just that criticism for web technology. While it’s often infantile, it’s equally often profoundly useful. As usual, web tech is trying to skip an old medium; a loss for both sides.

Still, during the DLF conversation yesterday I realized that I need to look for another kind of technology podcast: one about actual code. That is, where developers talk about their approach to programming, problem solving, how various tools do their job, and who knows, maybe even actively review code. In other words, a podcast that does for web tech what the DLF piece yesterday might do for writers. Maybe streaming things like (and perhaps if it ever goes [pun not averted] live) will fill the gap naturally. Still, I’ll have to hunt around some time.

Thinking back to mathematics, the podcasts I tried do not fill that gap. There are really good ones out there but they are not on the level of that DLF conversation or on the level of technology podcasts. They always seemed to be more interested in news, puzzles etc rather than challenging the listeners and the experts alike. Which reminds me, I should try to pick up Vilani’s book.

Later it smelled like Sommerregen. And everything was well.