Joint Meetings have nothing to do with pot

Sorry I haven’t updated in a while, as January has been an extraordinarily busy month, what with my job performance self-assessment to write, three new classes to prepare for and teach, and several items around the house to replace or repair (see last entry). But the biggest event for January was the Joint Meetings, and that’s worth recounting.

A map of San Antonio's Riverwalk

Every January, the various mathematical organizations in the United States, such as the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America, hold a four-day joint conference. Mathematicians flock to the Joint Meetings in part to hear about the latest breakthroughs in mathematical research and pedagogy, but mostly to drink excessively with past and fellow colleagues. I am no different.

This year the Meetings were held from the 12th through the 15th in the Riverwalk district of San Antonio, Texas, a city best known to the world as the home of the Alamo, but known best to me as the place where Cloak & Dagger took place. The Riverwalk is a portion of the San Antonio river that has been diverted to created a scenic riverfront for several blocks of hotels, restaurants, bars, and shopping centers about 10 feet below the actual street level. It’s remarkably pretty, and it’s apparently possible to get from any one point on the Riverwalk to any other point without actually crossing a street by descending to the Riverwalk and using the various foot-bridges scattered across the place, like some three-dimensional generalization of the bridges of Konigsburg. An actual* map of the Riverwalk appears at above. San Antonionians must be hella bad-ass graph theorists.

*Okay, not really. This is Carlo Sequin’s Hilbert Cube, one of the mathematical pieces of art on display at this year’s meetings.

Anyhow, this year at the Meetings I performed a 15-minute song-and-dance number called Using the CSI effect in Calculus. In fact, neither singing nor dancing was involved, but that sounds slightly more interesting that what I really did, which was to present a novel pedagogical approach I use for presenting infinite series and sequences in a standard undergraduate calculus course. If that fills you with anticipation and wonderment, you can download my slides for the talk, though without any context, explanation, and four-part harmonies.

In a plot twist completely surprising to me, the talk was extremely well-attended and well received. I actually spent another three hours or so after the talk actively discussing it with several college instructors from across the country. It’s pretty cool to have one of my ideas seem to go over so well with such a large number of folks much smarter than me.

However, the best thing about the talk happened immediately after it. As I was walking back to my seat to listen to the next speaker, a woman grabbed my arm and said “That was a wonderful presentation, an idea I’m going to use in my class. You just made my trip to San Antonio worth it.”

Well, you made my trip worth it too!

On a slightly related note, whilst in San Antonio, I visited the Alamo, as it is apparently illegal not to under Texas law. Unfortunately, the experience was rather anticlimactic. The only structures still standing consist of the iconic chapel and the long barracks. The inside of the chapel, draped with the flags of the states and nations home to the honored dead, maintains an air of solemn reverence. The Alamo itself, however, sits on a teeny tiny plot of land sandwiched on all sides by skyscrapers and kitschy tourist traps, and stinks of tacky consumerism. This was made all the more obvious during the dramatic retelling of the battle:

“Finally, on the twelfth day of the siege, Santa Ana’s men broke through the north wall, which would have run right through the current site of the Pussy Cat Triple-X Burlesque and Wax Museum. Commander William B. Travis was among the first Texians to die in that bloody, initial onslaught, his life plucked from his bullet-ridden body in what is now the lobby of the Davey Crockett Shoot-‘Em-Up Gallery, Arcade, and Fun-porium.”

Remember the Alamo? I’m not sure I want to anymore.

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