Kyle Maxwell

Just me.

Archive for the tag “stuff that matters”

Citizen Astronomy

So now 2011 has arrived and we’ve moved past the years that fascinated me as a young man. I’ve started to think again about working on stuff that matters. While my day job does matter in its own way, it lacks the sort of purpose I need. Some of that sense of purpose, of course, finds fulfillment in family and other inner pursuits. Those latter commitments mean that I haven’t returned to formal education (read, “his wife didn’t want him in class and not at home every evening…”). Instead, I’ve chosen to take Mark Twain’s counsel and find other ways to further my education.

But where should I start?

I have strong memories of my childhood telescope. As telescopes go, it wasn’t much. I think it cost something on the order of $100 at a toy store, but it did its job. As I recall, we bought it around the time of the approach of Halley’s Comet in 1986. In reality, I had lots of exposure to astronomy (and other “hard sciences”). My father and uncle took their own particular interest in this science, of course, with their own telescopes and binoculars and observations starting in their youth. To tell the truth, my family has several generations of history with what many now call “citizen science“.

During my undergraduate years, I took a basic course in Astronomy but didn’t apply myself. That had less to do with the particular course at the time and more with my overall approach to my studies, a particularly significant regret. Since then, I’ve always kept informed and interested about astronomy more than any other science, whether through eclipse observation or just APoD.

So I started looking around for areas somebody with my academic background (bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a strong computer science component) and skill set (UNIX, data analysis) could get involved. At the moment, I lean towards the Texas Astronomical Society. Conveniently, it meets at my alma mater which also sits along my work commute, and several of their upcoming events take place even closer to my home.

Whether not what I do matters, this definitely counts as working on stuff that matters.

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Working on stuff that doesn’t matter

Do I work on stuff that matters? Sometimes, I really don’t think so. My work (which I enjoy on a day-to-day basis) generally has an operational bent to it, even if that’s not the official label for it. That means that I don’t leave a product behind, which means that I have to look at the effect of my work on other people. Protecting people’s financial lives from fraud does matter, but that doesn’t feel particularly concrete. My work doesn’t not matter, I suppose, but it also doesn’t inspire me in a long-term sense.

I don’t know what stuff will end up really mattering. Maybe it’s data science, especially in the service of something that benefits all of us. Maybe it’s something non-technical, like dispute resolution or just helping out new dads and fatherless boys. Maybe it’s as “simple” as just focusing more of my time and energy on my family and community.

But I do know that I feel like the financial services industry probably won’t provide it, at least not for me. And just playing games definitely doesn’t, though that doesn’t mean that virtual worlds don’t matter (nor that I won’t find stuff that matters working on related topics).

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