Archive for the ‘My Career and Personal Life’ Category.

The Best Writing on Mathematics 2014

The Best Writing on Mathematics 2014Some of my friends collect volumes of The Best Writing on Mathematics published by Princeton University Press. The first annual volume appeared in 2010. In 2014, one of my papers, Conway’s Wizards, was chosen to be included in the volume The Best Writing on Mathematics 2014.

All my life I have hated writing. My worst grades in high school were for writing. I couldn’t write in Russian, and I was sure I would never be able to write in English. I was mistaken. I am a better writer than I gave myself credit for being.

Writing in English is easier for me than writing in Russian because when I make a mistake, I have an excuse. As my written English gets better and better, maybe one day I’ll get the courage to try writing in Russian.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank Sue Katz, my friend, English teacher, and editor. Sue edits most of my blog essays. Originally I wrote about Conway’s wizards on my blog. When I had three essays on the subject I combined them into a paper. Sue edited the essays and the paper. I am honored to be included in this respected volume and I want to share this honor with Sue.


The Miracle of my CPAP Machine

As I told you before I was recently diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. My doctor ordered me to use a CPAP machine&mdasha Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine&mdashthat blows air into my nose and improves the quality of overnight breathing.

I was elated, hoping for a miracle. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in 20 years. I was so looking forward to waking up rested.

When I went to bed, I put on my nose mask and turned on the machine. The mask was uncomfortable. It gave me headaches and I had to sleep on my back which I do not like. It also had this annoying plastic smell. It took me some time to fall asleep, but eventually I did.

To my disappointment I didn’t wake up rested; I woke up tired as usual. Still, I decided not to give up and continued trying the machine.

Several days passed and I found myself mopping the kitchen floor. I never ever mop floors. I have my cleaning crew do that. That mopping was my first positive sign. Then my relatives started telling me that my voice had changed and had become more energetic. A week later I invited my son and his family for my weekly family dinner, which I have been canceling every previous week for several months.

A month after I began sleeping with the machine, I started having night dreams, something I forgot even existed. After two months, I would wake up and my first thought would be, “What day is it today?” Prior to using the machine, my first waking thought was, “My alarm clock must be broken. It’s impossible that I have to get up now. I feel too weak to stand up.”

My machine is very smart. It records the data from my sleep and uploads it to a website, which my doctor and I can access. Instead of the 37 apnea episodes per hour I had during my sleep study, now I have 1 episode per hour. The quality of my life has changed gradually. I am not yet ready to conquer the world, but I have so much more energy. I’ve even accepted two more job offers, and now I have six part-time jobs. (I’ll tell you all about this some other time.)

There have been some side effects. For some reason I gained 10 pounds during the first two weeks of using the machine. And I feel like an elephant. Not because of my heavy frame, but because my nose mask with its pipe looks like a trunk.

But I prefer feeling like an elephant to feeling like a zombie. This indeed was a miracle, though a very slow-acting miracle.


My Sleep Study

I recently had a home sleep study. I was given a small box which I attached to my chest. I also had to attach a thingy to my finger and put small tubes into my nose. It was relatively easy. Now I have my report:

The total time in bed is 468 minutes. Overall AHI is 37 events per hour. The supine AHI is 58 events per hour. The oxygen saturation baseline is 91%. The hypoxemic burden is 58 minutes. The oxygen saturation nadir is 63%. The heart rate ranges from 76-118 beats per minute.

I didn’t have a clue what all that meant so I hit the Internet. AHI means Apnea–Hypopnea Index, and a normal score is below 5. Anything above 30 indicates severe sleep apnea. Because mine is 37, I now have my diagnosis. My 63% oxygen saturation scared me the most. Wikipedia says 65% or less means impaired mental function. I do not need mental function when I sleep, but Wikipedia also says that loss of consciousness happens at 55%. What would happen if I lose consciousness while I sleep? Can I die? Will I wake up?

Overall the sleep study was a great thing. Now I know the diagnosis and there are ways to treat it. So I am looking forward to my improved energy and health.

But there was something in this report that would bother any mathematician. As you can see apnea gets worse when people sleep on their backs. (Thanks to this study I learned a new English word: supine means lying on the back.) The apparatus that I had to attach to my chest prevented me from sleeping on my stomach, one of my favorite sleep positions.

This report doesn’t say anything about my average AHI when I am not supine. If this average is low, then the solution might be to learn to never sleep on the back. It also means that the oxygen saturation nadir number is not very meaningful. It shows how bad it can be if I am forced to sleep on my back. It doesn’t say much about my standard sleep situation.

When I next see my doctor, I hope she’ll have answers to all my questions.


Fear of Alzheimer

I am scared of that old German gentleman. Forgot his name. Oh, yeah. Alzheimer.

I started to lose my brain processing speed a long time ago. By my estimates I am about 100 times slower than I used to be. From time to time someone gives me a puzzle I remember I solved in 30 seconds years ago, but now it takes me 30 minutes. And it is getting worse. When I moved to my new apartment recently, it took me a year to remember my own phone number.

On the positive side, I feel quite famous, according to one of the signs of success. I am often greeted by people I don’t know.

My moment of action came when I was in my basement doing my laundry and couldn’t remember how to turn on my washing machine. This is after 10 years of heavily using this damn machine. I started to look for the button to push, but there were no buttons. There were only knobs, and I couldn’t find the word “on” anywhere. After struggling with my memory and with those knobs, I pulled out one of the knobs, and the machine started.

I panicked. I am afraid of Alzheimer’s Disease. I do not want to become demented. I do not want to forget how to count or to stop recognizing my children. I do not want to become a drain on my children’s time, emotions and money.

I had complained about my memory to my doctor before, but the only thing he ever found was anemia. This time I was more insistent. I had an MRI that ruled out tumors. I had more extensive blood tests that confirmed anemia and showed a Vitamin D deficiency. But then he sent me to a neurologist who suggested a sleep study. Finally I got a diagnosis of severe sleep apnea. I am so happy now. I might not have Alzheimer’s Disease. In the worst case scenario, I might die in my sleep. In comparison, this doesn’t sound so bad.


PRIMES Dominates High School Research

The 2015 Intel Science Talent Search results are out. This year they divided the prizes into three categories: basic research, global good, and innovation. All three top prizes in basic research were awarded to our PRIMES students:

  • First place: Noah Golowich, Resolving a Conjecture on Degree of Regularity, with some Novel Structural Results
  • Second place: Brice Huang, Monomization of Power Ideals and Generalized Parking Functions
  • Third place: Shashwat Kishore,
  • Multiplicity Space Signatures and Applications in Tensor Products of sl2 Representations

PRIMES’ success in this year’s Siemens competition is even more impressive. Unlike Intel, Siemens didn’t divide the projects into three groups. We took the first and second overall individual prizes.

  • First place: Peter Tian, Extremal Functions of Forbidden Multidimensional Matrices
  • Second place: Zoseph Zurier, Generalizations of the Joints Problem

PRIMES is the place for high school math research. Congratulations to all our students—and to me (and my colleagues) for a job well done!


Laughing at 225

It is time to report on my weight loss progress. Unfortunately, the report is very boring; I am still stuck at the same weight: 225. What can I do? Let’s laugh about it. Here are some jokes on the subject.

* * *

After the holidays I stepped on my scale. After an hour I tried again and had a revelation: tears weigh nothing!

* * *

I am on a miracle diet: I eat everything and hope for a miracle.

* * *

Ideas to lose weight: A glass of water three days before your meal.

* * *

I wanted to lose five pounds by this summer, now I have only ten pounds to lose to reach my goal.


Nothing is on Hold by the arXiv

I wrote a paper with my son, Alexey Radul, titled (Not so) Much Ado About Nothing. As the title indicates, nothing is discussed in this paper. It’s a silly, humorous paper full of puns about “nothing.” We submitted the paper to the arXiv two months ago, and it has been on hold since then.

This reminds me of an earlier paper of mine that the arXiv rejected because it didn’t have journal references. (Not so) Much Ado About Nothing is done in proper style. It follows all the formal rules of math papers, and contains references, acknowledgements, an introduction with motivation, and results. However, the results amount to nothing. The fact that this paper is not accepted is a good sign. It means the arXiv doesn’t just look at the papers formally; they look at the content as well.

On the other hand, the paper is submitted as a paper in recreational mathematics, and it is humorous, so it could have been accepted, since nothing is more recreational than nothing.

Neither rejection nor acceptance would have surprised me. The only thing I do not understand is why it is on hold. Why hold on to nothing?




Walking Lessons

I know how to walk. Everyone knows how to walk. Or so I thought. Now I am not sure any more.

I’ve been taking ballroom dance lessons on and off for many years. But at some point I stopped progressing. I got stuck at the Silver level. I know many steps and am a good follower, but I often lose balance and my steps are short.

Then I met Armin Kappacher, an unusual dance coach for the MIT Ballroom dance team. I would like to share some of his wisdom with you, but Armin doesn’t have much presence on the web. He only wrote one article for Dance Archives: A Theoretical and Practical Approach to “Seeing The Ground of a Movement.”

Wedding Queen

Although I’ve been attending his classes for several years, I haven’t been able to understand a word. He might say, “Your right arm is disconnected from your chest center.” But what does that mean? Others seemed to understand him, because they greatly improved under his guidance. But I was so out of touch with my body that I couldn’t translate his words into something my body could understand. Being a mathematician, I lived my whole life in my brain. I never tried to listen to my body. I was never aware of whether my forehead was relaxed or tensed, or if my pelvic floor was collapsed. I grasped that it was my own fault that I failed to understand Armin. I stuck with his classes.

After three years of group classes, I asked Armin for a private lesson with an emphasis on the basics. He instructed me to take three steps and quickly discovered my issues, which included:

  • I was too collapsed.
  • My spine was too curved.
  • My butt stuck out too much.
  • My weight was not forward enough.
  • My head was too forward.
  • I didn’t sway.

So now I am taking walking classes from Armin. I am slowly starting to feel what Armin means when he says that my pelvic floor is collapsed. I feel better now. Whenever I pay attention to how I am walking, my posture improves. As a result, I feel more confident, my mood approves, and I feel like more oxygen is getting to my brain. My friends have noticed a change. For example, my son Sergei got married recently, and I was sitting under the Chuppah during the ceremony (see photo). Afterwards, several friends told me that I looked like a queen.

I have to give some credit to my earrings. They were too long and were getting caught on my dress. So I was constantly trying to wiggle my head up—using Armin’s techniques.

I proudly brought this photo to Armin to show him my queen-like posture. He told me that I look okay above the chest center. But below the chest center my spine is still collapsed. Next time I will take sitting lessons with Armin.


My Blog is Still under Attack

Recently I wrote that my blog is under attack by spam comments. Most of the comments were caught by my spam-filter Akismet, the best-known filter for WordPress. I was receiving about 50,000 comments a day and 200 of them were sneaking through this filter. I had to moderate those and delete them. This was an extreme waste of my time. But I can understand that the bots achieved some goal. None of their comments made it to my website, but at least I myself was made aware of opportunities for hair removal in Florida.

The comments crashed my server and I had to install CAPTCHAs. I was happy that the number of comments that I had to moderate went down, but the total number of comments was still so high that my server kept crashing. Now that the comments are blocked from human view, why are they still pouring in? One software package is trying to inform the other software package about weight-loss wonder drugs. I am convinced that Akismet is not interested.

My hosting provider couldn’t handle the traffic and asked me to upgrade to a more advanced hosting package. It’s annoying that I have to pay a lot of money for these bots’ attempts to sell Akismet fake Louis Vuitton bags.

The upgrade was too expensive, so I tried a different solution. I closed comments for older posts. It didn’t help. The bad software continued trying to leave comments that can’t be left. They especially like my post about Cech cycles, called A Mysterious Bracelet. My weblog tells me that every second someone downloads this page and tries to leave a comment. But no one will ever see these comments. Even Akismet will never know what it is missing: it might have had a chance to make $5,000 a day from home.


Intel ISEF Mathematics Awards 2014

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair announced 2014 Grand Awards. I worked with three out of the top five mathematical award winners. Now I can brag that I’ve got my finger in more than half of the world’s best high-school math research.

To be clear: I wasn’t actually mentoring these projects, but I supervised two of the projects and I trained the third student for several years. So I’m proud to list the award-winning papers:

How interesting that each of these three students is from a different part of my present career. It certainly feels that I am in all the right places.