Spencer writes in the library, part 36: In case of fire, break glass


This episode of Spencer Writes in the Library took place Thursday, April 2nd around 2:00pm.

The Spot

Where am I working today?

It’s been a while since I’ve explored the basement of the library. Despite having spent a fair amount of time down here, I managed to find a spot where I haven’t worked before. It’s just barely on the east wing of the library, at a table near some of the oversized books and special collections

What’s a perk of this spot?

This was a great setup! I had a comfortable chair, an out-of-the-way spot, and a fire extinguisher just in case.

What’s a problem with this spot?

I’m not sure that these stacks were used very often, but the table and chairs were set up in such a way that I couldn’t help but block one end of the aisle I was sitting next to. It never became a problem, but I did feel a little self-conscious about it.

What have I learned in this spot?


One of the fun things about this extended blogging experiment is forcing myself to take a look at things in or about the library that I normally wouldn’t notice. I think today is the first time that I’ve seen a library shelf where only one of the sides was used. It makes sense that a shelf full of oversized books wouldn’t have room to also put books on the “backs” of these shelves, but that happens so rarely that it took me aback!

How would I rate this spot?

6 out of 5 dentists. (Why dentists?)

The Work

What am I working on today?

Last week, I focused on completing a principal components analysis; this week, I spent my time working on the closely related method of factor analysis. It didn’t take quite as long as I expected it to, and I wish that I had planned my day differently so that I could have talked to my advisor about next steps today rather than having to wait until tomorrow.

What’s the highlight from today’s work?

Like many people, I learn best by doing. For the principal components analysis, I spent a lot of time researching the method before putting it to use. That was the right choice for that particular step, but the best thing to come out of today was the increased understanding of factor analysis that came from the trial and error process of actually writing and carrying out the code in R. I would be exaggerating to say that I understand everything perfectly, but trying to carry out a factor analysis at least got me to start asking the right kinds of questions.

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