Jan 2008 BLOG

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2008-01-17 Austin AAS

Was in Austin last week attending the 211th or so AAS. Workwise the usual things happened. Met people (a good many Caltech alumni), looked at posters (what a large number for LSST, the future survey!), chatted at booths (both Google and MS were displaying their astronomy based wares and an almost healthy rivalry could be sensed. I wasn't sure if I should wear my google sky T-shirt, especially since MS WWT seems superior. Did wear it on the last.), collected some brochures and goodies etc. One thing that was different was that I gave a talk. With 5 minutes alloted, one can just manage to get in a concept or two. Add to it the fact that they put me in the wrong session. Well, made the most of it.

As far as the city goes, not much happened. Every other place is a bar. The gift shops mostly had cigars and New Orleansy things. 6th street is the happening place with people doing all kinds of things i.e. mostly eating this or that, generally that (that is that which I normally won't. These days anyway). Did have some sumptious meals with old and new colleagues and friends. Including one where the only fish I could eat was crayfish. That and other meals they threw on our tables and people banged and cracked and eat. Felt like being back in Texas. Had to take recourse to a peanut butter jelly sandwich. Most restaurants had interesting things hanging from the ceiling. Boiling pot was running 4 ceiling fans with a single motor. Rio Grande had a 5 feet boat tethered in a 7 feet pool inside the hotel (that was not on the ceiling).

It was my first trip to Texas, so made sure I picked up a cache. It was not too far from the convention center, and was by the river. Walked over the Congress st. bridge under which flying mammalian rodents display by the millions between Aug and Nov. Their young ones are 30% the weight of the mother. Took the free 'Dillo past the Capitol to the university and back stopping once to take a couple of snaps to prove I indeed ventured in that direction.

Had spotted the airport flyer stop just next to Hilton. So decided to check it out. They charge 50 cents to take you all the way to the terminal. Capital. Did not understand why they make you change the bus once in between. All people from one get down and sit in an empty waiting bus and go. Next to the bus stop was a casual board saying O Henry lived there. O Henry, a Texan?

[Salt Lake City was all white. Including the lake and most of the airport. The mountains looked fabulous. The ground snow reflected light wonderfully giving it a surreal look. But thats not Austin.]

2008-01-10 Fermat's Enigma

Finished reading the book with this title by Simon Singh. There is almost no mathematics in it, but it does provide a wonderful account of the problem that refused to be solved for over 300 years. There are many asides and diversions in the book. Most relate to the lives of various mathematicians whose contributions got used in Wiles' work. Many of the finest mathematicians from the past died tragically. By contrast, civilization seems to have reined that in now. Also the work? I think its a rather scattered field, and unless you can focus, it can be also played.

The book is worth reading by anyone interested in either history, or people, or math, or even literature. You could also see the NOVA documentary it is based upon.


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