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Tag: Kontsevich

Huawei and French mathematics

Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, appears to support (and divide) the French mathematical community.

I was surprised to see that Laurent Lafforgue’s affiliation recently changed from ‘IHES’ to ‘Huawei’, for example here as one of the organisers of the Lake Como conference on ‘Unifying themes in geometry’.

Judging from this short Huawei-clip (in French) he thoroughly enjoys his new position.

Huawei claims that ‘Three more winners of the highest mathematics award have now joined Huawei’:

Maxim Kontsevich, (IHES) Fields medal 1998

Pierre-Louis Lions (College de France) Fields medal 1994

Alessio Figalli (ETH) Fields medal 2018

These news-stories seem to have been G-translated from the Chinese, resulting in misspellings and perhaps other inaccuracies. Maxim’s research field is described as ‘kink theory’ (LoL).

Apart from luring away Fields medallist, Huawei set up last year the brand new Huawei Lagrange Research Center in the posh 7th arrondissement de Paris. (This ‘Lagrange Center’ is different from the Lagrange Institute in Paris devoted to astronomy and physics.)

It aims to host about 30 researchers in mathematics and computer science, giving them the opportunity to live in the ‘unique eco-system of Paris, having the largest group of mathematicians in the world, as well as the best universities’.

Last May, Michel Broué authored an open letter to the French mathematical community Dans un hotel particulier du 7eme arrondissement de Paris (in French). A G-translation of the final part of this open letter:

“In the context of a very insufficient research and development effort in France, and bleak prospects for our young researchers, it is tempting to welcome the creation of the Lagrange center. We welcome the rise of Chinese mathematics to the highest level, and we are obviously in favour of scientific cooperation with our Chinese colleagues.

But in view of the role played by Huawei in the repression in Xinjiang and potentially everywhere in China, we call on mathematicians and computer scientists already engaged to withdraw from this project. We ask all researchers not to participate in the activities of this center, as we ourselves are committed to doing.”

Among the mathematicians signing the letter are Pierre Cartier and Pierre Schapira.

To be continued.

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best of 2008 (2) : big theorems

Charles Siegel of Rigorous Trivialities ran a great series on big theorems.

The series started january 10th 2008 with a post on Bezout’s theorem, followed by posts on Chow’s lemma, Serre duality, Riemann-Roch, Bertini, Nakayama’s lemma, Groebner bases, Hurwitz to end just before christmas with a post on Kontsevich’s formula.

Also at other blogs, 2008 was the year of series of long posts containing substantial pure mathematics.

Out of many, just two examples : Chris Schommer-Pries ran a three part series on TQFTs via planar algebras starting here, at the secret blogging seminar.
And, Peter Woit of Not Even Wrong has an ungoing series of posts called Notes on BRST, starting here. At the moment he is at episode nine.

It suffices to have a quick look at the length of any of these posts, to see that a great deal of work was put into these series (and numerous similar ones, elsewhere). Is this amount of time well spend? Or, should we focus on shorter, easier digestible math-posts?

What got me thinking was this merciless comment Charles got after a great series of posts leading up to Kontsevich’s formula :

“Perhaps you should make a New Years commitment to not be so obscurantist, like John Armstrong, and instead promote the public understanding of math!”

Well, if this doesn’t put you off blogging for a while, what will?

So, are we really writing the wrong sort of posts? Do math-blog readers only want short, flashy, easy reading posts these days? Or, is anyone out there taking notice of the hard work it takes to write such a technical post, let alone a series of them?

At first I was rather pessimistic about the probable answer to all these questions, but, fortunately we have Google Analytics to quantify things a bit.

Clearly I can only rely on the statistics for my own site, so I’ll treat the case of a recent post here : Mumford’s treasure map which tried to explain the notion of a generic point and how one might depict an affine scheme.

Here’s some of the Google Analytics data :

The yellow function gives the number of pageviews for that post, the value ranges between 0 and 600 (the number to the right of the picture). In total this post was viewed 2470 times, up till now.

The blue function tells the average time a visitor spend reading that post, the numbers range between 0 and 8 minutes (the times to the left of the picture). On average the time-on-page was 2.24 minutes, so in all people spend well over 92 hours reading this one post! This seems like a good return for the time it took me to write it…

Some other things can be learned from this data. Whereas the number of page-views has two peaks early on (one the day it was posted, the second one when Peter Woit linked to it) and is now steadily decreasing, the time-on-page for the later visitors is substantially longer than the early readers.

Some of this may be explained (see comment below) by returning visits. Here is a more detailed picture (orange = new visits, green=returning visits, blue=’total’ whatever this means).

All in all good news : there is indeed a market for longer technical math-posts and people (eventually) take time to read the post in detail.


best of 2008 (1) : wiskundemeisjes

Of course, excellent math-blogs exist in every language imaginable, but my linguistic limitations restrict me to the ones written in English, French, German and … Dutch. Here a few links to Dutch (or rather, Flemish) math-blogs, in order of proximity :
Stijn Symens blog, Rudy Penne’s wiskunde is sexy (math is sexy), Koen Vervloesem’s QED.

My favorite one is wiskundemeisjes (‘math-chicks’ or ‘math-girls’), written by Ionica Smeets and Jeanine Daems, two reasearchers at Leiden University. Every month they have a post called “the favorite (living) mathematician of …” in which they ask someone to nominate and introduce his/her favorite colleague mathematician. Here some examples : Roger Penrose chooses Michael Atiyah, Robbert Dijkgraaf chooses Maxim Kontsevich, Frans Oort chooses David Mumford, Gunther Cornelissen chooses Yuri I. Manin, Hendrik Lenstra chooses Bjorn Poonen, etc. the full list is here or here. This series deserves a wider audience. Perhaps Ionica and Jeanine might consider translating some of these posts?

I’m certain their English is far better than mine, so here’s a feeble attempt to translate the one post in their series they consider a complete failure (it isn’t even listed in the category). Two reasons for me to do so : it features Matilde Marcolli (one of my own favorite living mathematicians) and Matilde expresses here very clearly my own take on popular-math books/blogs.

The original post was written by Ionica and was called Weg met de ‘favoriete wiskundige van…’ :

“This week I did spend much of my time at the Fifth European Mathematical Congress in Amsterdam. Several mathematicians suggested I should have a chat with Matilde Marcolli, one of the plenary speakers. It seemed like a nice idea to ask her about her favorite (still living) mathematician, for our series.

Marcolli explained why she couldn’t answer this question : she has favorite mathematical ideas, but it doesn’t interest her one bit who discovered or proved them. And, there are mathematicians she likes, but that’s because she finds them interesting as human beings, independent of their mathematical achievements.

In addition, she thinks it’s a mistake to focus science too much on the persons. Scientific ideas should play the main role, not the scientists themselves. To her it is important to remember that many results are the combined effort of several people, that science doesn’t evolve around personalities and that scientific ideas are accessible to anyone.

Marcolli also dislikes the current trend in popular science writing: “I am completely unable to read popular-scientific books. As soon as they start telling anecdotes and stories, I throw away the book. I don’t care about their lives, I care about the real stuff.”

She’d love to read a popular science-book containing only ideas. She regrets that most of these books restrict to story-telling, but fail to disseminate the scientific ideas.”

Ionica then goes on to defend her own approach to science-popularization :

“… Probably, people will not know much about Galois-theory by reading about his turbulent life. Still, I can imagine people to become interested in ‘the real stuff’ after reading his biography, and, in this manner they will read some mathematics they wouldn’t have known to exist otherwise. But, Marcolli got me thinking, for it is true that almost all popular science-books focus on anecdotes rather than science itself. Is this wrong? For instance, do you want to see more mathematics here? I’m curious to hear your opinion on this.”

Even though my own approach is somewhat different, Ionica and Jeanine you’re doing an excellent job: “houden zo!”

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