Baptizing Cats

A couple of ideas intersected this week.  First, a piece I was reading suggested that the endeavor they were elaborating was “As difficult as baptizing a cat.”  Depending on how you have related with cats in the past, this statement evokes an immediate sense of what the baptism experience would be like.  I am on a National Academy committee exploring the future of academic tenure.  I anticipate that the discussion may be as difficult as baptizing a cat.

Switching gears completely, I was reflecting on how difficult it is to keep up with the literature in the domains that interest me.  This led me to wonder how difficult it is for me to keep up with me!  This was prompted by my purchase of a new backup disk and having to transfer large numbers of files onto the new disk.  It took quite some time across two days.  As I did this, my natural tendencies to count things took over, with the following results.

In 2011, there were roughly 24,000 files on my backup drive.  By 2018, there were almost 50,000 files.  Thus, I added about 3,500 files per year, or about 70 per week, or 14 per working day.  What if I printed out all these files to have hardcopy backups?  This would yield about 1,250,000 million pieces of paper, or 5,000 inches of paper, requiring 40, four-shelf bookcases.  Clearly printing is not a good idea.

What about reading?  I can probably read about 50 pages of this material per hour – after all, I wrote most of it and have read it all earlier.  Thus, I need to read for 25,000 hours, a task requiring well over 10 years.  This suggests that one of my plans has to be shelved.  I though that after retirement, the timing of which seems to recede with each year, I would review the corpus of material that I have created, organize it in some fashion, and then do something interesting with it.

Well, now I know how unlikely that is.  It would an extremely challenging endeavor, perhaps as difficult as trying to baptize a cat.

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