## Conferences

I used to avoid conferences. It was simply something I was not interested in, especially because I wasn’t in position to visit conferences specializing in my area of research. Still, I decided to go to one and present my paper.

As a former participant in international mathematical competitions, it is quite natural for me to compare the conference atmosphere with one on IMO. There are some similarities – certain number of people one would call ‘geeks’ gathering in one place plus their teachers who can’t take the title geek due to their age, international company, exchange of ideas – but still, there is something missing. I’m not sure what it is.

Oh, before I forget – there’s one nice anecdote I have to share. Helmut Bölcskei was the first speaker at the conference and he gave an interesting lecture – which was made even more interesting when he warned the audience that he had made an error in his presentation – and that the audience will have to report what the error is when the lecture is over. Only hint he provided was – it is in one of the pictures.

Once the lecture was over, audience remained quiet. Professor Bölcskei returned to a slide with photos of three scientists and revealed that two photos were correctly captioned, but the one shown in this post wasn’t. He just said – it is one great Croatian mathematician, but you probably don’t even know he’s Croatian! (remark: this conference took place in Zadar, Croatia).

Then I realized who it is – I jumped off my chair in the back row and shouted: Vilim Feller! That was the correct answer… and I felt good – an amateur historian of mathematics found a way to show his modest knowledge at an Electrical Engineering conference!

## How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Title of this post is the subtitle of Dr. Strangelove (Kubrick’s 1964 movie) and it has a twofold symbolical meaning related to the theme of my post (only the one of those meanings will be revealed in the post, though).

Recently I got an idea (during a stroll) for my next year’s Mobile Robotics class project. One thing led to another – and I got an idea for my master’s thesis. It was a bit strange – I always thought my thesis will be something theoretical and closely related to mathematics, like the bachelor’s thesis I wrote. It looked to me like I finally learned to stop worrying (about my love for mathematics) and love the bomb (bomb being engineering in this metaphor).

Few days after, I’m still up for that project – but I don’t want it to be my thesis in the end – it’s a matter of principles, I guess – I want mathematics.

## Counting the piano tuners – the hard way.

No, Enrico Fermi and his questions weren’t my inspiration for this post – it was Stan Ulam’s quote I read few days ago:

Knowing what is big and what is small is more important than being able to solve partial differential equations.

That is exactly what an engineering student (or an applied mathematics student) needs: sense of reality. One needs to know what parameters of dynamic systems are normal, natural, what is the magnitude of results, what is negligible in calculations. Making fast estimates, estimating the accuracy of such estimates – knowing what accuracy is needed for certain calculations: it saves money, nerves, trees and shows intelligence. One could start with that in a calculus course, where problems concerning integral estimates (using MVT or some known inequalities for instance) could be given. After that – let the student take a course like the one on MIT called Street-fighting matematics. Without that, you can’t expect your students to make an estimate of the number of piano tuners in Chicago – they’ll do a brute-force search through the phonebook.

But hey, no one in charge of making the curricula will ever think of something like this – they managed to squeeze out probability theory, statistics, stochastic processes, numerical methods out of control theory students’ curriculum – enough said.

Still – Mark Twain was right:

Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.

## Dear John

The following post has nothing to do with the “Dear John” TV show, as you might have guessed, seeing that screen shot. I just used the title – this post is inspired with John Baez’s latest post on Petri nets.

Very often I find the things I study as an EE student totally useless. Few weeks ago we had a lecture on Petri nets in the Distributed systems course – and today I read John’s excellent post about it. It reminded me of John’s TWF posts about analogies in various branches of physics (electrical engineers could enjoy it starting with week 289).

Thank you John for showing me that there are ways for a mathematician (I doubt I’m a mathematician, but I am certainly not an engineer either) to enjoy engineering courses.