Archive for September, 2013

Jet Lag

September 30 2013

Dave is sick and I am operating on a time zone somewhere in the Pacific ocean.  We both just returned from a trip across the Atlantic.

Last week, i was in Russia.  I think the fact that I had little sleep in Russia (waking up early and going to bed late) has caused me to become over-exhausted on my 24 hour return journey.  Or, maybe it was the fact that my journey was 24 hours … in either event, I slept until 3:00 today.  Now, I worry about waking up in time for a meeting on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.  I hope I can adjust my schedule in time! 

While I was in Russia, Dave was in Heidelberg, Germany for the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, where Abel, Fields, and Turing Laureates were there to meet young scientists like David.  There, he met a few people who knew me, one of whom said that David says my name wrong.  Thinking it was someone who says “fah-see” instead of “fay-zee”, I asked how they said Fasy and if it was someone from topology.  When he said it wasn’t my last name, it was my first name, I immediately asked how he says my first name.  When he responded, i found out that she was right: Dave does say my name wrong.


Lunch Conversations

September 24 2013

In the middle of lunch yesterday, Peter, who was sitting next to me said “… when I wrote the book with Erdös …”.  Erdös was a very famous mathematician.  He also happened to be one of the most prolific.  He has over 1500 publications in total.  In fact, everyone who publishes in math (as well as related fields I believe) knows their Erdös number, that is, the number of degrees in publications between you and Erdös.  Mine is three:  I published a paper with Herbert who published a paper with six people (Boris Aranov, Janos Pach, Richard Pollack, Paval Valtr, Douglas Brent West, and Foong Francis Yao), each of whom have published with Erdös.

Peter elaborated on the collaboration with Erdös:

During a conversation, Erdös said “well, I had a result once.  I don’t remember what i it was, when it was written, or where it was published. However, I think it might have been in a Polish journal sometime in the 1940s though.”  Peter said that he spent a week trying to find the result.

During another visit to Vienna, Erdös went to visit Peter at his house, but arrived before Peter was home.  So, he went around back and sat in a chair to wait.  When Peter’s wife was setting the table, she noticed a strange man sitting outside.  When she stepped outside, he introduced himself as Erdös to her relief.  Then, he asked her for some money.  Wondering why he needed money, she asked for how much?  Turns out he wanted coins to play games with the kids, as he loved children.

Hearing these stories was quite remarkable. The mathematicians whose names I associate with theorems, books, and papers, I often do not have a face or a personality to place with them. But, talking to some of the mathematicians here, I am able to put a personality to Erdös, to Delaunay, to Voronoi, and to several others who I will never have the pleasure of meeting myself.

Today’s lunch conversation included the following story:

I met a man once from Göttingen.  I asked him if he knew that Göttingen was a center of mathematics (the man was not a mathematician).  He said, that in fact, he was aware of this.  And, the reason that he knew this was because of what he found in his office.  When he moved into an old office, there were still items left behind by the previous occupant.  After being there for a few months, he took a look inside the desk, and found Carl Frederich Gauss’s brain.

A Mathematician’s Birthday

September 22 2013

When a mathematician turns 60, a big party is thrown for them in the form of a conference.  What could be better than a week of  talks centered around the theme “of interest to you.”  Then, every 10 years, you get another big party.  If you are important enough, the parties will continue even after you pass away.

Last year, I attended my first birthday party.  It was the 100th birthday of the (late) A.D. Alexandroff.  Actually, there were two conferences in honor of his birthday, one in Yaroslavl’ and one in St. Petersburg.  Most of the presenters in St. Petersburg began their talk with a funny anecdote about him.  For me, it was neat to get an idea of what his personality was like.

This year, I am back in Yaroslavl’ to celebrate Nikolay’s 70th birthday.  Well, his 70th un-birthday.  He says it’s bad luck to wish him a happy birthday before his actual birthday.  According to him, this is not his birthday party, this is a conference on Geometry, Topology, and Applications.  He can keep telling himself that, but we are all here to celebrate his birthday with him.  Nikolay is the academic son of Boris Delaunay, a very famous mathematician.  When I was in Nikolay’s office last year and learned that one of the cabinets was from Delaunay’s office, I touched it for good luck.

Last year, when I was in Russia for a month, the Russian hosts were extremely welcoming.  They escorted us from the airport to the train, and had someone waiting at our train door when we stepped off the train.  They even took us on a day excursion to Myshkin (mouse town).  While everyone was quite welcoming and eager to show us Russia, Nikolay is one of the most enthusiastic hosts.  He picked up Jeff from the airport last year at 2 or 3 in the morning, then drove him around Moscow showing him all of the sites.  When they returned to the Steklov institute where we were all staying, the guard had gone to bed.  So, Nikolay started to climb into the guard’s bedroom window.  Jeff, jet-lagged and confused, barely had the time to react to the situation.  Luckily, I think the guard woke up and let them in before Nikolay climbed all the way in the window.

So, I have now arrived in Yaroslavl’ and am excited to spend the week with a group of great mathematicians.  Oh, and drink some horseradish-flavored vodka.


September 19 2013

In college, for all purposes, I had a personal trainer, named Kevin.  Kevin started this program called “Gutcheck” and I was victim number 0.  These workouts were often intense, but Kevin was awesome.  He protected me against stalkers (yes,  I had someone follow me to my 6 a.m. workouts) and was great at challenging me to accomplish things I didn’t think I could do (I never told him that I doubted myself though, he would make me do push-ups or something for saying that).   I still blame him for my thighs getting bigger in college.

Through the last six years, I have been running a lot and doing group fitness classes: yoga, Pilates, etc. (btw, the Pilates torture machines are amazing.  I think they call them “reformers”).  I’ve been happy with this; however, I set a goal of doing a pull up over a year ago, and I still have not achieved that goal (I blame the stress of wedding planning).

So, when Kevin contacted me again recently, I began a search for “gutcheck”-like workouts.  It turns out that there is now a big movement in the workout world called Crossfit, and I found a crossfit gym near me.  (Wikipedia says that crossfit has been around since 2000 but I didn’t know about it until recently).  Honestly, I found the websites to be confusing.   But the idea is that there is a fixed workout every day and you do it.  It’s actually free, if you have the equipment.  If you don’t have equipment and/or want companions to do the workout with you, then you go to a crossfit gym.

Today was my first visit to Cross Fit New Orleans.  I arrived to a garage with doors on both ends, full of weightlifting equipment, and about a dozen people doing various things, sprinting outside the gym, lifting barbells, hanging from a bar kicking their feet up to the top.  There seemed to be no organization, yet everything was running smoothly.  At first I saw no women, but then I spotted one — lifting a barbell with huge weights on it.  I started to second guess my decision, and asked someone if this was crossfit.  They seemed confused that I would ask, but they confirmed.

I found my way to the front desk and met Tony, the owner.  He had me fill out a form, then instructed me to use a rowing machine to warm up until I saw the number 500.  After completing my first task successfully, he brought me over to a big white board. On it, there was a work-out of the day (WOD) written down with mysterious acronyms.  In a small corner, was my workout:


Wall Ball



50 m.

The first line (10-9 … ) was the number of repetitions.  I did this 10 times, decreasing the number of reps each time.  The first exercise was wall ball: I took an 8 pound ball about the size of a beach ball, squatted down, then used my legs/body to throw it up against the wall.  The second was the burpee: go down to a push-up position, down and up, and then jump up to stand.  He instructed me that I was putting too much time in the push-up part, so I should just drop down to the ground to start.   For sit-ups, he gave me this nice little cushion to support my back a little.  And, 50 m. was a 50 m. jog in between each set to cool-down.  The instruction was to do the exercises fast, then take my time with the jog.  He told me that the goal was to do it in 20 minutes.  I did it in 18.  Go me!

After the work-out, he told me more about their gym.  He mentioned that for the first 6 or so times I come, I’ll have special instruction after the work-out to teach me things about gymnastics and Olympic weight lifting (I think I gave him a funny face when he said Olympic weight lifting).  But, it seems like I have finally found a replacement for Kevin.  (Sorry, Kevin!)  But, maybe I should wait to decide that until after I’ve done a real WOD instead of just the introductory one.


September 17 2013

I started a new job. Part of what this means, at least for me, is cleaning up the directory named research on my computer. Most of the directories in research have names that remind me of what is in the directory and/or when I made it, such as the notes from October 2010 in a directory named “2010-okt”, the document and the presentation for my research initiation project is in a directory named “RIP”, the translation of a paper by a Hungarian Mathematician István Fáry is in a directory named “fary” (see my previous post as to why I translated this paper).  The scheme of how the directories are structured has changed a few times, sometimes labeled by project and sometimes by date, but I am usually able to remember what is in every directory.

One directory, however, I did not remember.  The directory was named “blockers”.  I was curious to know what this meant, so I looked into the directory and found two files: blockers.svg and blockers.pdf.  I opened one of them and saw the following figure:



I usually have a text file or a short LaTex document explaining what I was working on, but for this folder no such luck. Perhaps I thought that the figure says it all.  Then, I had an idea. This was probably an example that I shared with someone, so I searched my email and found the following:



Attached is my counter example.  Well, it’s a simplified version of something more elaborate that I originally had.  Hopefully by simplifying it, I didn’t change the outcome.  I won’t fully explain it in this email so I don’t taint your thoughts when you look at it.  I was shopping too much to explain this to you today, so maybe we can try again tomorrow.  I’ll be around before noon, otherwise, I’ll see you for a drink in the evening.

Not much more help.  But now, I at least remember discussing an open problem with Michael and Dmitriy, perhaps when we were in Russia last year.  Oh, as I am writing this post, I am remembering a little more.  Maybe I can re-remember …

Post-Wedding Nightmare

September 15 2013

It was the day of the wedding, and I realized that I did not schedule the hair and makeup, nor had I shaven my legs.  And, Dave and I were both running around frantically … so, we saw each other all day.  Things were not going well.

To do my hair, I looked into the crowd of guests that was forming and choose the person with the best looking hairdo that day.  It was Brittany, a girl that I went to gradeschool with (who I did not invite to my real wedding, but I guess I invited to my dream wedding).  While someone was running to get her, I found a room with running water … it turns out that it was the room that the groomsmen were hanging out it (why I didn’t go to a bathroom, I don’t know … or, maybe they were in the bathroom).  So, I shaved my legs while talking to the groomsmen.  (I was wearing shorts, so it’s ok).

I thought after the wedding, these nightmares would stop.  But, I guess not.

Same Love

September 15 2013

I was about to get out of the car to go to Community Coffee (which, by the way, is my new favorite Coffee Shop).  But, a new song came on the radio and caught my attention.  The song began:  “When I was in the 3rd grade, I thought that I was gay, ’cause I could draw, my uncle was, and I kept my room straight.”  The song came out in 2012, so everyone else has probably heard it before … but this was the first time I heard it.  This song was made with a political agenda, supporting same-sex marriage in Washington State.  Just that one line says so much.

My first thought when I heard this song?  The kid should be a mathematician.  He’s defined gay as something quantifiable, not something abstract and based on feelings.  And, he’s learned this from observing society.  Genius.

After singing about stereotypes and the numbness of the digital age, the message of the song was “Underneath, it’s all the same love.”


Long Distance

September 8 2013

Dave: What are you doing?

Me: I am cooking.

Dave: But, it’s one in the morning, why are you making dinner so late?

Me: It’s 11:20.  We’re in different time zones, and you seem to be somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean right now.

Dave: But why are you making dinner so late?

Me: Well, I guess it’s not really dinner.  I had that taco as a snack, since this meal turned out to be more complicated than I initially intended.  I tried to follow a recipe, but I made a few significant changes.

Dave: What a surprise.

Me: So, I wanted to use that sausage I bought when you were here, but we never made.  In a cookbook, i found a recipe for sausage and saurkraut stuffed buns.  (Then I start to get excited about telling him about my cooking adventure).  

Dave: What?

Me:  Like a mini meat pie.  But, I don’t like saurkraut, so I decided to do sausage and mushrooms instead.  Then, I learned that my neighbor fell and got stiches, so I thought I’d make her some too.  But, then, it needed to be healthier, so I’m making vegetable ones too.

Dave: You changed what you are making because your neighbor fell.  This doesn’t make sense.

Me: No, I’m making extra for her.  So, the vegetable ones are with mushrooms, spinach, and asparagus.  And, I think I’ll throw in the peppers that are about to go bad.  But, I’m really excited about the sausage ones (ok, I start to talk fast now).  I wanted to use that sausage I had, but I don’t really like sausage that has the consistency of hot dogs.  I like the sausage that you can take out of the casing.  But, I had decided to go with what i had … until I found Soyrizo … soy chorizo!  I had to buy it.  And, I am cooking it now.  It smells delicious.  Oh, and the dough … that was another story.  (Now I realize that I haven’t had a response from Dave recently …) Don’t you think these will be delicious?

No response.

Me: Dave?   Hello?  (then, I thought that maybe his phone rang and he answered it, so I waited a minute to see if he would return).  Dave?  Are you there?

Something must have gone wrong.  So, I hung up and dialed back, Dave answers laughing.

Dave: I fell asleep.