Disjointed thoughts on the joint meeting

The title is a pretty facile pun, I admit, but I probably can’t manage much wittier after coming back from the AMS-MAA Joint Mathematical Meeting through a four hour delay in Memphis snow and another hour in Amsterdam exchanging an apparently broken 737 for a sounder one.

I had been invited by A. Salehi Golsefidy and A. Lubotzky to participate in their special session on expander graphs (slides to be found here), and since I had never attended such a big meeting, the occasion seemed as good as it could get — other tempting events happening then included Lubotzky’s Colloquium Lectures on expanders and the invited addresses of K. Soundararajan and A. Venkatesh.

Jordan Ellenberg also gave a talk at the expander session on our joint work with C. Hall, already discussed previously. This meant that I could rely on his gastronomical acumen for my first meals in New Orleans — a topic not to be tossed aside lightly (nor thrown away with great force, either). His heuristic technique was perfectly successful, and besides a fair amount of charcuterie, our dinner at Cochon included quite tasty fried alligator.

Random thoughts follow:

  • Lubotzky’s lecture notes are excellent; especially fascinating is the mention that the first sighting of expanders, earlier typically attributed to Pinsker in 1973, has been found in a paper of Barzdin and Kolmogorov (Problemy Kibernetiki 1967, 19, 261–268), adding one more item to the long list of discoveries connected with Kolmogorov’s name. I hope to write a more complete post on this paper, which is very interesting (there is an English translation in Kolmogorov’s selected works).
  • A mathematical meeting is even better when there is a good second-hand bookstore nearby, in this case, “Crescent City Books”; readers looking for a particular volume of the translations of the Proceedings of the Steklov Institute have a good chance of finding it there. For my own part, I bought a used copy of C. Spurgeon’s book on Shakespeare’s imagery, which is somewhat bardolatric, but fascinating anyway. (Quick do-you-think-like-Shakespeare-quizz: what is the first, or most vivid, image that comes to your mind about snails?)
  • My last meal in New Orleans was the least satisfactory; however, a better one would probably not have left me enough time to wander around and stumble upon the excellent Idea Factory store, from which I left with some nice three-dimensional animal puzzles for my family…
  • Coincidentally, my advisor, H. Iwaniec, received the Steele Prize for Mathematical Exposition during the meeting, especially for his graduate textbooks on automorphic forms — as I was one among many who learnt a lot from them, this was a great occasion to celebrate!
  • Ancient astronomy was a bit on my mind, as I spent a lot of my time waiting in- or out-side airplanes listening to P. Glass’s opera Kepler, and reading a recent lively biography of Galileo. If you are doing the same, you may be interested in a new website of digitized books of old astronomy; I am planning to have a long look at some of the books where friends and foes of Galileo traded insults, insights, theoretical absurdities and experimental masterpieces…

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I am a professor of mathematics at ETH Zürich since 2008.

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