Mathematics is well known for its young fanboys eager to lap up the latest in hypertechnical machinery (sorry, 13 year olds, diamonds are now OLD NEWS) before actually knowing how to compute the fundamental group of the sphere or compute the null space of a 3×3 matrix. But apparently there are also groupies in the more traditional sense. I received the following email last week (quoted here in its entirety with certain redactions to preserve anonymity for all parties involved):
I am a former math undergraduate student at [well-known university] who independently studies [some area of mathematics] interested in knowing more about your relationship to [famous mathematician] at [famous university]. What is his approximate age? Is he married or single? For approximately how long have you known him?
First, my recommendation is not to send such emails. I also don’t quite understand this line of questioning exactly. Sure, I kind of understand asking if someone is single, although that would still be a grossly inappropriate email to send to someone you have never met; but why is my relationship relevant exactly? Since you are so interested, BTW, here are the answers. His approximate age is far easier to find online than my email address or the information that I know this person, his relationship status is none of your business, and I guess I’ve known him for about 15 years?
Somewhat less salaciously, I received a Christmas card from an academic couple of whom I am absolutely sure I have never met. (I just checked my mailbox at work for the first time this year, which is where this card was sent.) They work in a state I have never visited, and neither of them are mathematicians (though one appears to have a math PhD). They wished me the best “on my career.” Apparently (according to their website) one of them is an expert on “targeted killings.” I hope that “on my career” is not a euphemism.
As for mail more directly relevant to me and this blog, I did (three or so years ago?) receive an unsolicited package in the mail from a blog reader. The sender’s name (Leslie, I think?) was suitably unisex, so I naturally assumed that it was a swooning 20-something female who had fallen for my prose and occasional deliberate grammatical and spelling errors. But the reality was better: it was (as far as I could tell from a google search) a 60 year old male with a PhD in math, who send me a CD with some Schumann Lieder, in particular an Edith Mathis CD (with Christoph Eschenbach on the piano) entitled “Frauenliebe und Leben & other Lieder”. Absolutely wonderful! Through a quirk of fate this CD has ended up in my car, and has been in heavy rotation over the past year during my commute. Because I wouldn’t want you to miss out, I’ve given a youtube link to one of the songs below (Kennst du das Land — not from the titular cycle, but chosen in part because the accompaniment reminds me stylistically of Dichterliebe, partly because it sounds good, and partly because Robert wrote it for Clara and it is Valentine’s day). But it makes me wonder: what type of fan mail does Quomodocumque get? (or, for that matter, Terry Tao and Sir Timothy Gowers, FRS)