Last week I was in Cambridge for Barry’s 80th birthday conference. If you are wondering why it took so long for Barry to get a birthday conference, that’s probably because you didn’t know that there was *also* a 60th birthday conference (in 1998, which is not entirely obvious given Barry’s actual birthday). It dates me somewhat to remark that I arrived at Berkeley as a graduate student just in time to miss this conference. (Come July 1, or thereabouts, I will have spent 20 years living in the US.) My first memory of Barry dates from when I was a graduate student in Berkeley. Ken introduced us; we chatted in the tea room (1015), and, as I remember, Barry listened and talked to me with much more generosity and patience than anything I had to say particularly warranted. My next interactions came about through my work with Kevin Buzzard on various conjectures relating to the Eigencurve. Once again, the level of enthusiasm he expressed for our ideas was the type of positive feedback that (to put it mildly) comes somewhat infrequently in academia. He agreed to be my NSF sponsor at Harvard, and later we became co-authors and friends. Needless to say, I was psyched about coming to this conference, and the conference was great! I will not rehash the talks here, beyond a few small observations.
Jordan was very careful about notation in his talk. He had previously used as a symbol to denote an integer, so he carefully used to denote an object which admits a map to :
Answered here: What is BG? Not answered here: why do two corners of this pullback square look suspiciously like the same symbol?
As for my own talk, having previously tried to give some technical talks on math related to the CG-method which went horribly wrong, this time I gave a slide talk on my work with Boxer, Gee, and Pilloni which was all candy and no vegetables. (Summary of talk: first Riemann, then Wiles, and now us). Kai-Wen legitimately expressed disappointment at the lack of details (fair enough, you can’t fault that guy for skipping details). Otherwise, it elicited the reminder from Dick Gross that — although I could get by and make a living doing this sort of thing — it was time for number theorists to escape the “ghetto of holomorphic forms” (a phrase I think he attributed to someone else, I should say). Hey, Dick, don’t I at least get points from escaping the even worse “swamplands of discrete series”?
For those playing Barry Mazur bingo (sample squares: Gorenstein, “but…that’s beautiful”, there were plenty of opportunities to see the influence of Barry’s mathematics. There was, however, a novel aspect of the conference which was an interdisciplinary day consisting of three conversation sessions of Literature/Poetry, History of Science, and Philosophy/Law/Physics respectively. By all accounts this was a wildly successful enterprise (hat-tip to the organizers). I did have one question I would have liked to ask one of the historians of mathematics, but the theme of the conversation meandered elsewhere. Instead I shall ask it here into the void (I’m not accusing you, dear reader, of being a void, merely that there are probably not any actual historians reading this blog):
A working mathematician usually has a very interpretative (and somewhat anachronistic) view of the history of mathematics: Galois “knew” which groups acted on p points, Gauss “knew” XYZ about class groups, etc. Mathematicians feel confident in these interpretations even if they are not explicitly written in this form in the original texts. What are the dangers in this (Whiggish?) view of the history of mathematics?
Cambridge Culinary Roundup:
With conference banquets (with some touching and amusing speeches by those who knew Barry well) and receptions going on, there was only a limited time for dining, not to mention the problem of trying to book restaurants at the last moment. Still, there was some opportunity to revisit some familiar and some new places:
Burger versus Burger: When it comes to Cambridge burgers, there is only one possible choice…or is there? My general impression was that the only way you could like Mr Bartley’s was if you were first exposed to it before your culinary tastes had a chance to develop (i.e. as a drunk undergraduate). On the other hand, a Cragie on Main burger (circa 2012) was as close in my mind to burger perfection as you could get. But did either of these opinions hold up today? Thus was the origin of the burger versus burger challenge. The participants for round one (Tuesday lunch) included myself, Quomodocumque,
The Hawk, Akshay, Joel, and Bisi. (Although Bisi was participating in a slightly different show, namely the latest episode of “mathematicians trick Bisi into going to a grungy restaurant.”) Round two was Tuesday dinner. Bisi and Joel dropped out on the reasonable basis that they had already consumed enough saturated fat for one week, but the rest of us continued on.
The conclusion? Cragie on Main clearly serves the superior burger (as noted by the Hawk, the fact that the request for a “medium rare” burger came out medium rare at Cragie on Main versus medium well at Bartley’s meant there could be no other conclusion). But perhaps inevitably, my opinions were forced to be somewhat softened in both directions. Bartley’s really did a decent job as far as the overall taste was concerned, and Cragie on Main’s burger — while better — stopped well short of being transformative. I suspect that they’ve been coasting for too long and haven’t maintained the level of excellence they started with (maybe that’s true of Bartley’s too, although I didn’t get a chance to eat there in 1960). In fact, there’s a generally sound principle to be a little wary about restaurants which have been around for too long. (Having said that, I would still find it hard to skip going to Rivoli restaurant on my next trip to Berkeley.)
Chess: Au Bon Pain has disappeared! The entire Holyoke center building is under some sort of reconstruction. The chess players are still around, however, having moved to (literally) the triangle that is Harvard square. I played a few games, and was prettily solidly crushed by a 2300 player in some lightning games. I also declined to play a $10 lightning game against an IM with generous odds, not because I thought I didn’t have a 50% chance of winning, but because I didn’t think I had a 90% chance of winning, and losing would have been at least 10 times more annoying than winning would have been pleasant.
Coffee: 5 (or so) years ago, Crema was a revolution in Harvard Square (i.e. drinkable coffee, reasonable hipster attitude). While their coffee was never at the level of something like Voltage Coffee (near MIT, and sadly now gone), it made staying at the car park known as the Harvard Square Hotel a more palatable option than at the “quaint” Irving street B&B. Times have changed! Crema is a victim of its own success — in a busy place which requires a frequent changeover of staff, the emphasis on coffee no longer seems to be paramount, and the quality control has dropped precipitously. The result was high inconsistency. Out of four coffees I got there, two were OK, one was pretty bad, and one was send directly into the bin. (I would like to have said “tossed in an elegant arc directly into the rubbish bin,” but if I had really attempted that, it would have been more like “unceremoniously spilt all over my shirt.”) As of today, there are definitely better options even in Harvard Square (further afield, one trip was made to Broadsheet which showed promise, even though my own flat white there was merely acceptable). Namely: Tatte Bakery & Cafe, which I really quite liked as far as the pastries and the sandwiches went, and the coffee itself rose to acceptable if not excellent standards.
Darwin’s is still Darwin’s (I prefer Tatte), Night Market (inspired by asian street food) was pretty interesting (some tasty eggplant) if a little idiosyncratic, and Parsnip did a perfectly good job of replacing “Upstairs at the Square,” a restaurant at which I had many a dinner when I used to live in Cambridge. (I had my eye on a few other restaurants, but none of them could take at short notice a reservation for 4 on a Thursday, so Parsnip was especially good given the constraint of not being so popular.
If you have suggestions of better coffee that I may have missed, please make suggestions since I will be returning in November. I also hope the Cambridge weather in November is more like June weather, given that the weather this week was more like November weather: