Budapest, Seattle, New Haven

Here we continue the previous post on Summer 2010 events in Reverse chronological order.

Happy birthday Srac

In the first week of August we celebrated Endre Szemeredi’s birthday. This was a very impressive conference. Panni, Endre’s wife, assisted by her four daughters, organized a remarkable exhibition by mathematicians who are also artists. Panni also organized tours and activities for accompanying people which my wife told me were great. A few mathematicians chose to attend the tours rather than the lectures. In Hungary, Endre has a nickname “Srac” which means “kid”, and, to my amazement, people (including young people) really call him Srac.

Szemeredi Kati and Zsuzsa

After-dinner speech. The distinction between surprising and amazing, and the question of do we age when it comes to our emotions and inner soul experiences

Being asked to give the after-dinner speech for Endre in the festive boat dinner ranks second in my life among cases where I was chosen for a job for which so many others were much, much more deserving and qualified. (As so many people at the conference were much closer collaborators and friends of Endre than I was.) The most extreme case happened 15-20 years ago when I dreamed that I was appointed to be in charge of the prestigious Israeli Air Force. (I apologize, on behalf of my subconscious, for this dream.) I never served in the air force, and the closest I get to planes is as a passenger on commercial flights, but I was nevertheless chosen for the job. This started as a pleasant and highly flattering dream but turned into a nightmare since I really did not know how to handle the Israeli Air Force. Of course, the precise details of the dream are still classified.

Fortunately, because Endre is so wonderful, this time it was an easier task.

In the speech, I made a distinction between being amazing and being surprising (Szemeredi’s work is both amazing and surprising), I mentioned the beauty of Endre’s mathematics as well as his beautiful family, friendship, and deep blue eyes, and I made a suggestion that when it comes to our emotions and inner soul experiences, aging is just an illusion. (My wife who is a psychologist did not agree with me on the last item.)

Panni, Endre and me

March 2012: Endre was named yesterday the Abel prize Laureate 2012. Congratulations, Srac! (See also this post on Gowers’s blog.)

Discrete sampling, continuous sampling and friendship

Joseph Beck gave a remarkable blackboard lecture about striking differences between continuous sampling and discrete sampling. (You can read about it in the conference proceeding entitled “Irregular mind”.) In the context of Joseph’s talk I thought about mathematical friendship. We develop in the mathematical community a genuine and strong  friendships. Yet, it is a kind of friendship which is based on discrete and sometimes sparse “sampling”. Of course, a more continuous form of “sampling” is not possible and often not welcome. Yet, sometimes we miss important events in the lives of some close friends, be it moments of joy or some serious bumps in the road.

Five generations in Seattle

A few days before Budapest, I was in Seattle at a meeting celebrating 100 years of Victor Klee and Branko Grunbaum mathematics. The highlight, of course, was Paco Santos’ disproof of the Hirsch Conjecture, and there were many other very interesting talks. Quite a few people that I met later in Budapest and Hyderabad were already in Seattle. My mother used to say that genes often skip a generation, especially when we witness children who do not have the same characteristics as their parents. Indeed, this saying does wonders to enhance the descriptive power of genetic thinking. In my lecture I mentioned Branko’s bold nature regarding conjectures, which I inherited after it skipped one academic generation. Joe O’Rourke mentioned a particularly bold conjecture of Branko and expressed some disbelief. “Prove me wrong!” shouted Branko with the enthusiasm of a sixteen-year-old boy.

Branko was the advisor of Micha A Perles (and also of Joram Lindenstrauss, Moshe Rosenfeld, Joseph Zaks and many others). Micha was my advisor (and also of  Meir Katchalski, Michael Kallay, Nati Linial Noga Alon and many others). Isabella Novik was my student and here we are with four student of Isabella: Michael Goff,  Kurt Luoto,  Andy Frohmaderand, and Steven Klee. (From left to right.)

Micrososft Research at Redmond, and the Szemeredi conference schedule

Before the Seattle meeting I spent sometime at MSR Redmond. Jeff Kahn, my long-time friend and collaborator, was there and he asked me if I noticed something special about the Szemeredi conference schedule which was to take place two weeks later. Back in Jerusalem I realized quite quickly that the conference was scheduled masterfully with a lot of attention to delicate matters! The talks by Kahn and me were back-to-back, which was very thoughtful given our long-time partnership. Who can better present the next generation of combinatorialists than Noga Alon, who was scheduled to give the opening lecture? And the conference ended emphasizing the computer science horizons with a lecture by Avi Wigderson. Beck’s and Bollobas’s lectures both had a touch of physics, and they were also one after the other. Putting Terry Tao’s lecture on the last day was a sure way to guarantee that people would stay for the whole conference, and the lectures on combinatorial geometry were evenly spaced among the different days. The more I looked at the schedule the more impressed I was. And indeed when Jeff asked me if I also noticed something unusual about the schedule, my response was “You bet!”.  Before I had the chance to mention my own deep observations about the schedule, Jeff asked me if I had also noticed that the speakers were ordered alphabetically

How Dan Spielman became a scientist rather than pursuing a career as a lock breaker

Just before visiting Seattle I was at Yale and met one day Dan Spielman and Adam Marcus.  (Dan did not know at that time that I was going to present his work at Hyderabad and, of course, said nothing about the prize.) Dan told us an anecdote from his undergraduate days at Yale.  Aside from his academic interests he was a fairly capable lock breaker. Once, while breaking into Yale’s math library on a weekend, Dan was interrupted by Igor Frenkel (then a young faculty member) who asked him to explain what he was doing. Breaking into locked Yale property could be regarded as a serious disciplinary violation, so Dan explained that he was so curious about a certain math problem that he had to break into the library. Well, said Igor, if you want, we can simply give you a key.

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6 thoughts on “Budapest, Seattle, New Haven

  1. Loved this blog Gil! A Hungarian colleague from LSE, Gyuri, directed me to this link!
    I belong to your school of thought “when it comes to our emotions and inner soul experiences aging is just an illusion.”
    Hugs and kisses to both you and your wife

  2. I was directed here by Kati, who was directed here by Gyuri, so in effect, I was directed here by Gyuri too!

    Gil, The mere fact that the alphabetical ordering managed to so nicely fit into the “masterful scheduling” of the Szemeredi conference is a triumph in its own right!! I loved your speech at the conference and I loved this story too! big hugs to your whole family, Zsuzsi

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