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Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

13 Articles Tagged with “NSERC 2010”

  1. I can haz conference?

    This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I attended the eighth annual Combinatorial Algebra meets Algebraic Combinatorics Conference. No, I didn't record awesome video diaries as I did when I attended the 2010 Canadian Undergraduate Mathematics Conference. I did meet many experts in these fields, listened to interesting talks that I didn't really understand, and gave a talk of my own!

    Combinatorial algebra and algebraic combinatorics are, as the conference's title and purpose expresses, two sides of the same mathematical coin. They are areas of mathematics that combine techniques from combinatorics and abstract algebra (notably, commutative algebra) to solve a variety of problems in algebra, combinatorics, and even algebraic geometry. Now, these fields are specialized. I got the impression that even among the thirty or so graduate students, postdocs, and professors in attendance, many of them were struggling to keep up with some of the talks, because the topics in this area, as with any specialized field, can get pretty esoteric. One fellow gave a talk on cluster algebras, and the room was rather silent when it came time for questions.

    Still, it was exciting to attend the conference even though I, as an undergraduate student with only two courses…

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  2. Summer endings, September beginnings

    Hello September. I have missed you. You might be my favourite among all months, but don't tell the others. And no, it's not because my birthday is in September (although that helps). Nor is it because September signals the start of fall television, with new episodes of Castle, Chuck, House, Stargate Universe, etc. More than any other month, even that notorious January, September is a month of changes and new beginnings. For those of us biased in our perceptions by our position in the northern hemisphere, summer will soon be a memory; the leaves will change colour; and I'll be back in school, where I belong.

    I spent this summer doing research and quite enjoyed it. We didn't make as much progress toward a solution as I had hoped, but I learned a lot, both about mathematics and research in general. I'm comfortable using LaTeX (which is sexy) and have had some experience with Macaulay2 (also pretty hot). I even went to a conference, something that surprised me.

    With my research finished, I have these two weeks off before school begins on September 13. Next week I return to work at the art gallery. I don't…

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  3. CUMC 2010, Days 3 and 4

    It is Saturday, but it doesn't feel like Saturday, mostly because I'm . . . at school. This is the last day of the CUMC. I'm in the last talk of the day, having chosen to attend "Perfect Matchings and Shuffling." Afterward, there is the final keynote, which Ram Murty will deliver on the Riemann hypothesis.

    Yesterday I went to a talk on fractal image compression. The talk itself was not stellar, but there were some good questions on the applications of this type of lossy compression, and the speaker addressed those well.

    In the afternoon Aaron, Rachael, and I took a bus--yes, a bus--down to King St. This was my first time riding public transit, and it wasn't in my own city! Aaron wanted to visit a small record store, Orange Monkey Records, and then i checked out a used bookstore known as Old Goat Books. I bought more books than I should have, considering they need to fit in my sparse luggage--but I couldn't resist.

    The final keynote of the day was delivered by Greg Brill, of Infusion. Although titled "The Evolution of Technology," Brill's talk was not what I expected. He has a…

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  4. CUMC 2010, Day 2

    It is Thursday, July 8.

    After the first talk this morning--on set theory, particularly ZFC--I spent time caressing the lovely wireless network by way of uploading some photos to Flickr. When attempting to geotag them, however, I ran into the slight problem, in that typing "University of Waterloo" into the Flickr map's location finder produced no results.

    So, Yahoo!, in case you are wondering why people drool over Google and its products, here is a hint: we are lazy. When I type in the name of a major university, your map should be able to find it for me. I should not have to go find a postal code on my own, enter that, and wind up in the general vicinity of the campus. (I used Google Maps to find the postal code too, which just seems wrong). It is not that I am a Google fanboy, Yahoo!--they just do it so much better.

    At lunch, I did something completely out of character and chose to be adventurous, purchasing bubble tea for the first time. My less adventurous self was soon vindicated. We went to a fast food place called "The Grill" for food. I attempted to…

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  5. CUMC 2010, Day 1

    It is Wednesday, July 7. The CUMC talks began today.

    I went to four talks today. Rather than summarize them all--I enjoyed them all--I'll mention some highlights. The first talk of the afternoon was both my least favourite and most favourite talk. Entitled "The Ontology of Mathematics: Do Numbers Exist?," the presenter read from dense slides, which did not make for the most riveting experience. There was some lively discussion among the audience, however, and I enjoy talks like that.

    Comparing CUMC to the Combinatorics & Optimization workshop that preceded it, I prefer the student talks of the former. The topics are so varied--there is so much choice within each time slot, that it is difficult to decide which talks to attend. The atmosphere is less intimidating, because it's undergraduates talking to undergraduates. I almost regret not giving a talk myself--almost, for it would involve public speaking, and long gone are the days when classes made that mandatory.

    There were two keynote speakers, one at lunch and one at the end of the day. First, Frank Morgan, from Williams College, gave a talk on densities and the Poincaré conjecture. As I have never studied differential geometry, most of the mathematics…

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  6. Combinatorics and Optimization, Day 2

    It is Tuesday, July 6.

    Today's four talks began with electrical networks and random walks. That is, suppose you have a graph that describes a network through which electricity flows. Starting at a vertex x, what is the probability that, when walking at random along the graph, we will arrive at a vertex s instead of a vertex t? This talk was very easy to follow (for which I am thankful), even though I don't have any engineering or physics background with which to understand the electrical current aspects (like voltage law).

    Unfortunately, the second talk involved probability. Probability is great, but I find it very difficult, so this talk was hard to follow. The third talk was about embedding locally-compact metric spaces on surfaces (it is not as scary as it sounds). Finally, the fourth talk was about matching polynomials. The speaker went rather briskly, so it was difficult to take detailed notes, but I enjoyed the subject. Before this summer, I had no idea that polynomials and graphs went so well together. Now it seems like they're inseparable.

    And that concludes the Combinatorial and Optimization workshop. There was a banquet for CUMC at the Huether Hotel,…

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  7. Combinatorics and Optimization, Day 1

    I wrote this last night at my grandparents' house, which has no Internet connection I can feasibly use (dial-up does not count), so I had to wait until today to post it from the University of Waterloo campus. All references to "today" refer to Monday, July 5.

    This week, Rachael, Aaron, and I have travelled to Waterloo, Ontario for two math conferences. The first is the Combinatorics & Optimization Summer School, a two-day event consisting of several talks and, yes, food! The second is the Canadian Undergraduate Math Conference, which also entails much talking and eating. I was reluctant to attend at first, because I dislike travelling. However, my grandparents live in Waterloo, so this was a convenient way to visit them for a week while still getting paid. With that incentive, I managed to convince myself that these conferences would be interesting and probably even useful to my research. This was only the first day, but so far I remain convinced in those respects.

    I've been up since 4:30 in the morning. Let me take a moment to reflect on the fact that we flew from Thunder Bay to Toronto in an hour and a half, traversing--or…

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  8. No sugar tonight

    Stanley, prior to a paint job

    Last week, I discussed how maths is hard, but I spent plenty of time solving a Rubik's cube anyway. At this rate, you are going to get the idea that I don't do any work at all. Nevertheless, a desire for accuracy and lulz requires me to remain truthful regarding how I spent this week in the office.

    We made a piñata.

    We named him Stanley the Resurrection Pig.

    I don't recall who came up with the initial idea. As with all good, crazy plots, it starts off as an innocuous hypothetical scenario: piñatas equal fun, fun equal good, we could make a piñata! This is the last week all four of us will be in the office together--Aaron, Rachael, and I are going to Waterloo next week for a conference, and Jessica is off to Ireland, returning only after Aaron and Rachael's contracts are finished. So if ever there was a time to set aside the math papers and construct a papier-mâché animal, then savagely beat it to a pulp, this was that time.

    None of us are piñata-making experts, and that was probably for the best. Rachael had some experience with papier-mâché--also for the best--so we made…

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  9. Music must change

    I like to joke with my friends about how easy I have it this summer. I'm sitting in a cozy little office with a fan, proximity to a kettle, and a high-speed Internet connection. Unlike a summer research student in, say, chemistry or biology, I don't have to manipulate lab equipment or sex fruit flies (Cassie :P). The extent of my experimentation will involve uploading programs to a high-powered computing network and asking it kindly to compute a few more numbers for me. I Google math papers relevant to my problem, try to understand what they say, and see if I can come up with my own ideas. One thing I love about math research, especially in my area of interest, is how much it's thought. All I really need is a blackboard and chalk, or pencil and paper. (That being said, the high-powered computing network does help when I get to the computation step!)

    Of course, it's not all fun and games (even though I did learn how to solve a Rubik's cube last week). Maths is hard! And right now, even though I've been in university for three years, I feel like an amateur groping around an unsolved…

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  10. Guitar and pen

    Yes, yes, I know. At this rate, my weekly recap will become bi-weekly. I didn't do a lot the week before last, owing to Victoria Day making for a shortened week. So rather than two very short blog posts, I decided to forbear and write one short blog post instead.

    The last two weeks have been more reading, more learning, and a little thinking. I hesitate to ascribe a label like "productive," since it's hard to quantify. I think I understand my problem now, but there remains a lot for me to learn in order to start trying solutions.

    I tried running the original algorithm for computing the spreading number, which was written in CoCoA, on my computer. I had hoped that my 2 GB of RAM and 1.83 GHz processor would have enough memory to compute some additional numbers. Alas, CoCoA stubbornly crashed (after several long hours) each time I instructed it to do so.

    So I ported the code to Macaulay2. It's even slower, which makes me suspicious that I'm missing something--after all, I am learning both languages, so I'm sure that in transliterating the code I managed to miss an obvious way to make it…

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  11. You ain't seen nothing yet

    Shorter entry this week, as I didn't do much new and exciting in week 2 of my research project. I'm still having fun, but because it's so early in the summer, that fun mostly takes the form of reading.

    As tweeted earlier, the secret to reading (and understanding) math papers is simple. First, always read it twice. Then read it again. But to make sure you really understand, you need to take notes. Write down what's implicit in the paper, the steps the author leaves out because "it is obvious" or "it is clear to the reader" or, even worse, "this has been left has an exercise for the reader." Once you've done that, the final step is to read the paper again.

    I spent all week reading two papers, one of which expands on the findings of the other. The first investigates the spreading and covering numbers in relation to the ideal generation conjecture. Much of the paper goes over my head. Nevertheless, there were some very useful figures, and the use of graph theory in one paper and set theory in another helped improve my comprehension of what these numbers are. The second paper, in particular,…

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  12. Start me up

    Chalk board in my office

    I am now into the second week of my NSERC summer research project. So far, I'm having a lot of fun. The subject of my research is interesting and exactly the type of mathematics that I want to study. The "daily grind," such as it is, does not grind at all--it helps that there are three other undergraduate students doing research this summer, and we all share the sessional lecturer office. We can distract each other, when needed, and pick each other's brains for help with particularly puzzling proofs.

    So what exactly am I doing? Well, it's esoteric even for those who enjoyed math up until the first years of university. I'm going to drop some math jargon in the next few paragraphs, so don't worry if your eyes start to glaze over. Photos and hilarious video will follow!

    Since my prof was leaving town at the end of the week, we met several times so he could give me some lectures and we could discuss my project. The work I'm doing relates to ring theory, which is a course I took nearly two years ago, so I have a lot of review to do. Most of the week,…

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  13. Summer scoop: I have an NSERC grant!

    This January, I applied for a summer Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Lakehead University has 20 such awards to give to applicants this year, and on Monday, I learned that I am the recipient of one!

    I was (still am) a mixture of elation and trepidation. Part of me is still in a state of shock and can't quite believe that this is real. I spend a good half hour after learning I got the grant just trying to calm down so I would not run up to everyone I encountered and yell, "I GOT A GRANT!" Another part of me is saying, "What do you think you're doing, Ben? You don't even understand what it is you're going to be researching!" As anyone who has ever looked at a higher math textbook knows, the language is just scary sometimes.

    I applied for the NSERC grant for two reasons. Firstly, it's a different summer employment opportunity than my default, which is the art gallery. Don't get me wrong: I love working at the gallery. You can't beat the hours, and I have an awesome boss--she took the news that I wouldn't…

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