From yesterday, explaining my incoherence/absence-from-the-interwebs for the last 24 hours; I've been alternating between stuffing my brain back into order post-giant-data-dump and running frantically to catch up with work.

Flailing happy bewilderment detected. Dropping into diagnostics mode. Scanning...

I'm shaking. I'm managing to control it so it doesn't really show, but I'm actually physically trembling, and it's hard to write and type and not leap out of my chair with excitement. As I write about this, I'm physically calming down (which is what I hoped); my heart rate is slowing, I can breathe again. Slow breathing; calming down. Thought begins to emerge from the chaos, guided by and in the form of a string of words; typing them out as I think them is one way to pull them down, give myself something to focus on, some way of building up a structure around myself again.

This is how I deal with ambiguity quickly and in a way that lets me take the risk of diving off a cliff and blowing all my mental models up at any time; I have a quick-release tent. Sometimes I should let myself free-fall for longer before pulling the parachute ripcord - and sometimes I should decide that I'm not going to pull the ripcord at all, just let myself go down, down, down until some external force makes my thinking solidify. But right now, I need to find my footing quickly, so I can do some work on FUDCon in the few hours between class and seminar. So I deploy the meta, and it lets me step back, step out of myself, assess, calm down. Calm down. Calm down.

Okay. Okay. Now. What the hell just happened?

I went to class; I woke up in the morning and got in the car and drove out to Purdue again and went to ENE 69500 05 History and Philosophy of Engineering Education in ARMS 3115. Robin and Alice (Robin Adams and Alice Pawley, the professors) saw me, waved me in, whispered a quick sentence of context, and invited me to join a nearby discussion group. That's what happened. Then what happened? The topic for the day was "what do engineers describe as engineering?" and there were readings by Bucciarelli, Koen, Jonassen, Strobel, et. al on various aspects of philosophy and problem-solving method and papers written about practitioners and papers written for engineering educators and I had read what I could, which was everything - and understood what I was able, which was not a lot. That's what happened. (I'm still calming down, as you can tell.)

Then what happened? Discussion started. And I found myself in the middle of a conversation that was just at the edge of my ability to grasp it. There are a series of scrawls in rapidly generating handwriting sprawling across the back of the syllabus, pages of my notebook (new vocabulary words: my notebook is a "cognitive artifact" that, when I use it as a prop to talk with someone else about stuff, becomes a "boundary object") - notes on the conversation, notes for the conversation, meta-notes observing my reaction to the conversation, asides on how this fits into the community work we're doing at Red Hat, random scribbles of glee - parallel threads of thought, written down as rapidly as my hand would go. (Not very fast. It's why I prefer typing.)

On top of all that, I managed to hang tenuously in the conversation at my table, asking questions, absorbing and responding to what the other two students were saying. Robin started to write down definitions of engineering on the board as the students called out fragments on the conversations from their tables. It was a riot; laughing everywhere, ideas rocketing across the room, everyone visibly struggling to push the limits of the way they thought. I listened, listened, listened, scrunched up my face as ideas whirled into a something, and then raised my hand, the maximum possible number of everythings from the conversations streaming around me crammed into a giant awkward sentence. "Definition: engineering is the simultaneous acceptance and resolution of the tension created by messy, ambiguously constrained problems through the process of collaboratively recognizing and codifying them as opportunities to define, design, and then create an optimization."

I grimaced at the gawkiness of the Frankensentence. All the grad students blinked once at the strange youngster at the back table who'd just splurted out these big words - and then without missing a beat, the discussion rolled on, hammering out my contribution along with all the other ideas, refining it, pushing it, tossing it here and there... I was thrilled. I can haz actually be part of this world!

Most of my visit to Purdue can be summarized by that feeling, or this one:

Me: blah blah blah blah open source blah blah?
Prof: ooooo, open source blah blah blah blah!
Me: blah blah community blah blah? blah blah blah! Blahhhhh...<MASSIVE TORRENT OF IDEAS AND QUESTIONS!>
Prof: ...whoa.
Me: *is EXCITED!!!*
Prof: So! Let me enumerate the individual threads of thought in your gigantic braindump, then illustrate the available literature and current research going on in this area, for which most of the current luminaries are within a 100 foot radius of where you are sitting right now. Actually, let me go introduce you to them. And then let us repeat the process for each of these threads of thought. Here, have a brain explosion!
Theory and practice: *MERGE*

Basically, the open source community of practice has this... practice. Of the open source way. Which we are very, very good at. But don't have much of a good way of explaining, except in ad-hoc bits and bobs - or proving, except in waving and going "well, it seems to work so far!" More or less. And then there are these folks in academia. Who have these theories. That apply to... well, actually, they apply to us. We are a living lab.

It's as if particle physicists had been going "we think, according to our calculations, that this thing exists, and here are all these details that we know about it and why it acts the way it does, but we have never seen it in rea-" and then, just at that moment, the Higgs boson waltzes through the door and says "Hello! I'm trying to Understand Myself. Do you know anyone who could, ah, help?"


I think that's gotten enough of my excited incoherence out that I can crank through a couple of tickets now. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!