I’ve returned from a weekend excursion to one sibling of the Twin Cities, namely Minneapolis, doncha know?
I was there to attend the Collaboration for the Advancement of College Teaching and Learning, a conference all about how to effectively teach students born into the “Age of Internet,” and so my contribution was a presentation with my colleague J on using mathematical software to present mathematics using visual intuition and empirical hypothesis-testing, rather than the static memorization of new rules, but mainly it was a chance to show off some of my cool Maple programs, like one that allows students to render a movable tangent line:
or another that allows students to watch Taylor polynomials dynamically converge to the function they’re approximating:
The ten or so folks who attended seemed very interested in the ideas we presented, and almost all of them stayed a half-hour after the conclusion of the talk to experiment some more with them, which was karmically rewarding for me. Even better, the Vice President of Komplexify U was also in attendance, and got to see me make said presentation and see dais post-presentation congregation, which (given that I am going up for tenure next year) I hope will be financially rewarding as well.
The conference itself was held in one of the convention-hall areas of a towering Hilton. The Hilton itself was pretty nondescript, but it is worth mentioning that the Collaboration conference was the same weekend as a Society for the Culturally Awkward (or SCA) group, which meant that when I wasn’t at a pedagogy seminar I was watching pimply-faced guys and gals in corsets and knightly body armor badly singing karaoke renditions of disco songs, which is a spectacle I would highly recommend to others.
I did not, however, stay at the Hilton, but rather at the hotel across the street, the Sofitel. If a hotel can be built around a theme, then for the Sofitel that theme would be sixties Paris; if a hotel can be built around a single word, then for the Sofitel that word would be swanky. There’s psychedelic paintings on the walls, oblong glass tables at which to sit, and artistically arranged (though probably non-OSHA compliant) exposed wiring in the elevators. One wall of the foyer undulates like a sine curve, with leather loveseats nestled away into its nooks and niches adorned with scented candles and plaques with words like Magnifique or Couture or Pomme de terre in overly ornate cursive fonts. The foyer itself consists of a vast open rectangular space in which four massive circular chandeliers dangle in scene that can best be described as “just moments before massive structural failure:”
I didn’t do much on Friday after the collaboration, owing to the fact that the outdoor temperature was hovering just slightly below absolute zero, but on Saturday, J and I headed downtown to catch a play at the Guthrie. The play was Peer Gynt, a reinterpretation of a Norwegian folk story that involved businessmen in cardiac distress, human-troll inter-species breeding, hallucinatory voyages through the desert and the ocean, and the melting of people into tin coins before it got really strange. It was enjoyable, if a little bizarre.
The Guthrie itself is a remarkable building. Its bright blue exterior is a strange contrast of circular arches and rectangular blocks, do that the entire structure appears to be built entirely out of oversized Lego blocks. Inside, the Guthrie has more twists and turns than the building in that Relativity Escher print. There is the “forever bridge,” a sort of cantilevered archway that gives to the person standing at its far end the vertigo-inducing impression of being dangled precariously two blocks away from the theater building itself. There are a pair of escalators that appear to throb and pulse with light. There is are bathrooms with no sinks, per se, but stacks of irregularly-placed planes of metal that direct (in unnecessarily Rube-Goldbergian fashion) water from a faucet to the general vicinity of your hands. There is the Dowling Theatre on the ninth floor, a massive gallery of empty space flanked on all sides by yellow-tinted windows that give the entire world a nostalgic sepia-tinged glow, as if you’d stepped out of reality and into an antique photograph. The Guthrie is cool.
After the play, J and I strolled through downtown Minneapolis to get something to eat. The city has this ingenious thing called the “City Walk,” which I can best describe as a human sized version of a hamster tube like this…
…except this one is the size of a major city. Seriously, it’s this elevated, enclosed walkway that meanders back and forth throughout most of downtown Minneapolis. It cuts its way through the interior of office buildings and commercial centers, department stores and parking garages, occasionally dropping a little tube of stairs down to terra firma should you wish to walk the mean streets. On the one hand, its a bit like walking through a never-ending subway station: poorly ventilated, stuffy, and frequently smelling of urine. On the other hand, it’s a neat way to walk through Minneapolis at night and see the city without freezing off your junk.
Anyhow, I took some pictures over at Flickr if you’re interested.