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A record number of people (over 1200) attended MathFest, the summer meeting of the Mathematical Association of America in Burlington, Vermont, August 1-3. There were many sessions, minicourses, invited addresses, exhibits and social events, some of which are summarized below.
The Mathematics of Cryptology
This two-day short course took place before the start of the meeting. It was organized by Carl Pomerance (Lucent Technologies, Bell Labs) who also gave two of the talks during the minicourse. Other speakers were Peter Winkler, Daniel Bleichenbacher (both from Lucent), Mike Szydlo (RSA Securities, Inc.) and Joe Silverman (Brown University and NTRU Cryptosystems, Inc.). Participants in the course learned of the theory behind modern cryptology as well as many of the practical issues involved in implementing encryption. Over 100 people attended the course.
Underwood Dudley (DePauw University) served as the emcee for the banquet and introduced Joe Gallian (University of Minnesota at Duluth), who gave the after dinner presentation: Who is the Greatest Hitter in the History of Baseball? Gallian began by pointing out that answering that question is analogous to "climbing Mt. Everest without oxygen, Sherpas, ... and shoes!" He then showed many rankings of baseball hitters which were based on various statistics, both familiar (batting average) and unfamiliar (runs created). Babe Ruth and Ted Williams were the top two hitters in almost all the rankings. On the purported insistence of Jim Tattersall (Providence College), Gallian recommended Williams as the greatest hitter and quoted columnist George Will, "If you assert that Ted Williams is the greatest hitter of all times, someone might argue with you, but no one would ridicule you."
Why Are Random Matrices Cool?
Alan Edelman (MIT) began this invited address by showing some beautiful plots of eigenvalues of random matrices. He noted several connections between random matrices and other topics, such as small world networks and the Riemann Hypothesis. Edelman said that random matrices are cool because 1) the area is easy to get into, but one can spend a lifetime doing research in the field and 2) they touch many mathematics topics, for example combinatorics, harmonic analysis, integral equations, chaotic systems and statistical mechanics.
A Wireless Phone Plan and College Algebra
In a contributed paper Sarah Mabrouk (Framingham State College) showed how she uses her students' interest in cell phones to teach them about piecewise linear functions. Mabrouk has her college algebra students do projects comparing plans for different companies, so as to find a good plan for their calling habits. Mabrouk also spoke at the session "Using Popular Culture in the Mathematics and Mathematics Education Classroom," which featured ways to use characters as diverse as Bart Simpson and Perry Mason in order to help students grasp various concepts in mathematics.
Lake Champlain Dinner and Cruise
The toughest ticket in town was for the Thursday night dinner and cruise on Lake Champlain. Those lucky enough to reserve early enjoyed a tasty buffet meal and a beautiful evening on the lake. "Champ," Lake Champlain's version of the Loch Ness monster, was not sighted. This event was summed up by one of the cruisers as he exited the boat, "I was just thinking what a delightful evening that was."
The following awards were given on Friday morning.
AWM (Association for Women in Mathematics)-MAA Invited Address
Saturday morning, Annie Selden (Tennessee Technological University) spoke on "Two Research Traditions Separated by a Common Subject: Mathematics and Mathematics Education." Selden first pointed out that researchers in the two areas share a love of mathematics and a desire that more people love and do mathematics. One of the differences between research in mathematics and in mathematics education that she listed is that in mathematics, conclusions are established by proof and one proof is enough to establish a fact, whereas in mathematics education, conclusions are based on observation and no single study is conclusive. Also, researchers in mathematics education often have to get permission for their studies, to ensure that the people involved are not going to be harmed. Later that day, Annie and her husband John were guests on the radio show Math Medley.
MAA Student Lecture
It is rare that speakers shake hands with each audience member before a talk or go through costume changes during the talk, but that is exactly what Colin Adams (Williams College) did in "Blown Away: What Knot to Do When Sailing." Masquerading as Sir Randolph "Skipper" Bacon III, Adams used a sailing predicament (Bacon was "cutting through the water like a counterexample through an errant theorem" when he found a knot in his line) to give the audience an entertaining tour of the subject of knots. Adams explained p-coloring, Reidemeister moves and a recent result on an upper bound on the number of Reidemeister moves required to determine if a knot is trivial. Although it was the final afternoon of the meeting and most audience members could have been expected to be lethargic after attending many talks by that time, Adams/Bacon received thunderous applause at the conclusion of his lecture.