Monday, June 25, 2012


"In analytic geometry, an asymptote of a curve is a line such that the distance between the curve and the line approaches zero as they tend to infinity." -Wikipedia

Figure 1. Time, effort, and perfection. You're never gonna get there.

That is, the curve never actually reaches the line. It just gets really, really, really close.

Such is the case with "finishing" an academic project. In my case the "curve" is the paper I've been working on, but really it could be anything academic. A thesis, a project, and experiment, etc. etc. Whatever. The "line" is the completion status of the thing I'm working on. And no matter how hard I work on it, no matter how much time I put into it, I will never ever reach completion. It simply won't happen.

For me, the hardest parts of writing a paper are the very beginning and the very end. The beginning is rough because I have a difficult time building up motivation and getting over the initial hump; but, once I start writing I see the progress being made and it comes easier. The end is even more painful to get through, however, and it is all because of this asymptotic approach to completion. The last 10% of a paper takes an absurd amount of time to get through.

I know perfectly well this paper will never be good enough for my own standards. I know that eventually I'm going to have to just let it go, because any more time invested in it will just give me diminishing returns (see Figure 1). It just eventually becomes more work than it is worth. And that is how you know when a project is "done", even if it technically isn't. 

Because it can't be. It's mathematically impossible. And there's no use driving yourself crazy over it.

But for me, for right now, I think I've yet to reach that critical point where I feel like I'm wasting my time. So I'm off to the crazy factory for a couple more days of staring blankly at my computer screen. 

I'll stop if I start to go cross-eyed.

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