I will be leaving later this week after 2 months here. I will miss the lack of rain and the relaxed lifestyle and high education level off campus (not having to teach or listen to colleagues in meetings certainly helps – I suppose sabbaticals are supposed to be better than “real life”). Yesterday I saw two full large shelves of mathematics books, many very high level, in a used bookstore, something impossible to find at home. Not to mention a shop selling only dog collars, nurses on strike, the local street people, poor roads, compostable plates and forks.
Two interesting Berkeley institutions are worth mentioning. The Berkeley Math Circle has been running for over 15 years, modelled on East European practice and driven by dedicated people such as Zvezdelina Stankova. It is tempting to try to replicate something like this at home, starting small of course. The Simons Institute for Theory of Computing is up and running, and promises to be a great venue for collaboration.
I have been posting to this blog for well over 5 years now, and the silence is deafening, as I almost never receive any comments. It seems that this phenomenon is common. In an attempt to have a bit more conversation (without being overwhelmed) I am going to try using Google+ systematically, in addition to this blog. I think Twitter is still a step too far for me, because I don’t understand how to deal with the deluge of tweets.
This article seems a useful one for researchers new to social media.
As I understand it, many languages are pronounced “incorrectly” in such a way as to make it easier. Liaison in French is very common: saying “les amis” without pronouncing the final “s” of “les” would require a pause or glottal stop. I have just noticed that it is very common in American English to do the reverse in some situations, and I have absolutely no idea why. I have heard many people pronounce phrases like “get off” with a glottal stop instead of the “t” of “get”, and also words like “button” have a break between the two “t”s. This seems very weird – why pronounce words in a nonstandard way when that makes it harder to say, not to mention ugly-sounding? I first noticed it in an episode of Dora the Explorer several years ago, and assumed it was an idiosyncrasy of the voice actor in question. But it seems to be very common, and I even heard a reporter on National Public Radio doing it today.
What theory accounts for this illogical and inefficient behaviour? Wikipedia tells us that it is not confined to the US, which I had known for much longer, having as a child seen too many TV programmes involving Cockney characters.
In the last few days I have come across some very interesting stuff showing just how quantitative our life is becoming:
In late 2009 I started writing the post below:
I have spent 3 months in Berkeley, California as part of a sabbatical, although not affiliated formally with the university. The university, despite recent budget worries, is still very impressive, and the town is comfortable (if expensive) to live in.
The Computer Science Theory Lunch and seminars in the Wozniak Lounge in Soda Hall were enjoyable and informative. A particularly interesting talk was Why Sex? by Adi Livnat (view the associated paper). I am still on the mailing list for seminars, and this year they have some very interesting-sounding ones.
Now I am back in Berkeley, this time visiting officially (thanks to my excellent host Elchanan Mossel).
I gave a talk in the Probability seminar in the Statistics Department. This was a daunting task, given the kind of speakers they normally get. It was a good experience for me (not sure about the audience). One of the best-known people in that department is David Aldous (who, I think, attended my talk). He has some really interesting stuff on his website. I found this interview with Persi Diaconis very worthwhile.
Theory Lunch is still going on, and I have been to a talk by Shayan Oveis Gharan on the Asymmetric Travelling Salesman Problem. There is a joint Berkeley-Stanford series of talks on Data, Inference, and Society, and so far I have heard Jon Kleinberg (Cornell) on algorithmic detection of memorable phrases and Randall Lewis (Google) on the near-impossibility of measuring the returns to advertising. Further afield, a public talk by Craig Venter on synthetic life was held in a very small room (appalling organization – didn’t they think he might be a popular speaker) and was alternately incomprehensible and inspiring (I guess I should have studied some biology). There are so many interesting talks, I wouldn’t have enough time to get any work done if I went to all of them.
I do have worries about the state of Californian public finances and the impact it may have on the university system. But that’s still very good from what I have seen.
The journal Combinatorics, Probability and Computing (obviously, since the publisher is Cambridge University Press, it doesn’t use the “Oxford comma”) will publish a special issue dedicated to Philippe Flajolet, whose early death in 2011 shocked, although perhaps didn’t surprise, the Analysis of Algorithms community.
I have submitted a paper, and judging from one I have been asked to referee, the standard will be high. Philippe’s own research work and encouragement of others were an inspiration to the entire community, and I am sure everyone wants to submit something approaching his standards.
This has finally been finished and is publicly available. Much of it was written by a large group, of which I was a member, on the final day of the NZAUOR meeting in early February.
I just read a New York Times article about Paul Frampton, a physicist who ran into major trouble in “real life”. I would have had trouble inventing such a character, but on reflection, I can’t say that I am all that surprised that one exists.
I doubt many will be interested in this post, but it is worth recording what I do these days. It differs a lot from how I worked 10 years ago.
My daily routine: read blogs (using subscriptions through Google Reader), check chess news at Chesscafe), check open access news at Open Access Tracking Project and math publishing discussions at Math 2.0. Check and process email (trying to keep to the philosophy of Inbox Zero, and use OmniFocus to see what I have to do, so I can Get Things Done.
Of course I use LaTeX for writing papers, but I have given up bibtex in favour of the biblatex package. I use the beamer package for producing slides for talks. I looked at some papers from 15 years ago and found they no longer compile, and I seem to have lost some macro files. I intend to (sometime) upgrade all of them to my new “house style”, which uses the fourier font package, hyperref, and other packages.
The blogs by mathematical/CS people that I currently read consistently are those by Tim Gowers (Gowers’ Weblog), Scott Aaronson (Shtetl-Optimized), Gasarch/Fortnow (Computational Complexity), Michael Mitzenmacher (My Biased Coin), Noam Nisan et al. (Algorithmic Game Theory), Daniel Lemire, Peter Cameron. I also follow the UoA statistics (Stats Chat) and computer science departmental blogs, and a few other low-traffic ones. It is probably time to revisit this list. I find that commenting on blogs is annoying – the comments come at too fast a pace, people stop reading the discussion within a few days, and the comments are scattered all over the internet.
I attended most of all 3 days of the conference. The technology was surprising to me – collaborative online notepads were written on by attendees, and tweets were sent from one room to the other to find out what people were doing. The amount of activity on Twitter was enough that the hashtag #aunzor was hijacked by some unsavoury spammers. Notable speakers were Aidan Byrne, CEO of Australian Research Council (via Google Hangout), and Nat Torkington. Mat Todd from Sydney gave a very interesting talk about open lab book science. I am still thinking how open research methods would apply in mathematics. The overall standard of discussion was high, and in the end resulted in a declaration (soon to be finished) in support of open research. Overall a very well organized and inspiring meeting – congratulations to the organizers. This was my first ever panel appearance at a conference.