“Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande

Gawande is a wonderful writer who does a good job moving back and forth between the clinical and personal/anecdotal parts of his story.  This could be a bit formulaic, but one of his case-studies is his own father and I found that rescues it from that fate.  A moving and thoughtful discussion of the role of the medical profession in the lives of people with terminal illness or who are nearing death.

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Coincidences among small groups

I like to study reflection groups of various kinds.  Let Sn denote the group of permutations of n points, let GL(n, q) denote the general linear group of invertible linear transformations of an n-dimensional vector space over the finite field with q elements, and let GA(n, q) denote the general affine group of invertible affine transformations of an n-dimensional affine space over the finite field with q elements.  Then:

  • S1 is isomorphic to GL(1, 2), which permutes the single non-origin point in a two-element vector space.
  • S2 is isomorphic to GA(1, 2), which permutes the two points in a two-element affine space.
  • S3 is isomorphic to GL(2, 2), which permutes the three non-origin points arbitrarily.
  • S4 is isomorphic to GA(2, 2), which permutes all four points arbitrarily.

Except for the second of these (where the non-identity transformation is a translation but not a reflection), these isomorphisms are actually isomorphisms as reflection groups, in the sense that the reflections in Sn (viewed as a matrix group acting on n-dimensional real space) are exactly the transpositions, and in the isomorphisms above they correspond exactly to the reflections (elements that fix a hyperplane pointwise).

I don’t have any meaning to draw from this, but it amuses me.

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“Sunset Park” by Paul Auster

What with moving half-way across the country and starting a new job etc., it’s been a while since I’ve read a novel.  I enjoyed this one.  At some level its characters do not feel exactly real to me, but it worked emotionally.  Themes are woven in throughout the story that play no role whatsoever in the plot; this creates interesting echos, but it also gives a feeling like it was written to be read in a seminar on American Literature rather than by a normal human being.  I will certainly keep my eye out for other Auster books.

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Bialy sightings

Update on a personal obsession: the Shop-Rite grocery store in Somerville, NJ bakes and sells bialys in-house.  (I did not get to try any.)

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March for Science MN

This gallery contains 19 photos.

Had a great time at March for Science MN last weekend.  (The fact that it was in the 70s and sunny didn’t hurt!)  Here are some photos.   Some more posters I liked but didn’t get good photos of included … Continue reading

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A nice note

Purely in the category of self-congratulation: I received a lovely note (edited below) from an advisor in the University Honors Program, for which I’ve been teaching multivariable calculus, differential equations and linear algebra this year.

 I heard through many disappointed students that you are leaving UMNTC.
Many students were sad you were leaving- you made quite an impression on them and quite a few said they’ve never had a better math professor. That is high praise, especially from my honors kids!
I wanted to pass that awesomeness along to you and let you know that you are appreciated! We will miss you here.
Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication to the students. It made a difference and the students know when a professor wants them to succeed.
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“The Bialy Eaters” by Mimi Sheraton

This short, amusing book describes attempts by the author (a former NY Times food critic) to work out the history of the bialy.  Much of the book consists of light, pleasant tales of her meetings and interviews with expatriates from the Jewish community of Bialystok, Poland, which was almost entirely wiped out during World War 2.  It was a fun read, though I have trouble imagining it would be of interest to anyone who has not eaten bialys.  Of particular interest to me, given my previous post, is the fact that Melbourne, Australia is one of several places with large groups of Bialystok emigrés that appears.  Finally, I thought the food critic nature of the author shone through in funny ways.  Sheraton is scathingly negative about many of the bialys she eats in the course of her research.  She also maintains both that it is very important that bialys be cooked until crispy and are best served straight from the oven, and that toasting a bialy is a strange and unnatural activity.

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