Archive for the ‘ICM2010’ Category

ICM2010 — final post

September 2, 2010

The previous post was the final post in the sense of being the last post describing my experience of the ICM. But here I’ll just quickly collect together a few bits of information that it might be handy to have in the same place. I’ll start with links to the recordings of all the talks I have described that were recorded. (You can find these, and all the other talks, by going to the ICM website, but my experience is that they are organized in a rather irritating way: on one page you have a schedule but no links to videos, and on a separate page you have links to lots of videos but are not told which link is to which talk.) Then I’ll collect together my favourite quotes from my four days at the congress. Finally, I’ll give a collection of links. If anyone has any suggestions for possible additions to this page, I’ll be happy to consider them.

Talks discussed on this blog

Opening ceremony Part I (This starts with a close-up of Kevin O’Bryant, includes about 15 minutes before the ceremony started, which allows you to hear, not very well, the Indian music that was going on, and gets up to just before the announcement of the Fields medallists.)

Opening ceremony Part II (This takes you from the announcement of the Fields medals to Martin Grötschel’s amusing discussion of impact factors.)

Opening ceremony Part III (The last ten minutes, starts in the middle of Grötschel’s talk and includes his demonstration of the IMU page with all ICM proceedings on it)

Laudationes Part I (Starts with twenty minutes of empty stage — the result of the laudationes starting late — and gives you all of Furstenberg on Lindenstrauss and the beginning of Arthur on Ngo)

Laudationes Part II (The rest of Arthur on Ngo, then almost all of Kesten on Smirnov)

Laudationes Part III (The rest of Kesten on Smirnov, then H-T Yau on Villani. Ends with a shot of the audience while Kalai gets ready to start talking about Spielman.)

Laudationes Part IV (Gil Kalai’s talk with the introduction cut off, and the first half or so of Varadhan’s Abel lecture.)
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ICM2010 — fourth day

September 1, 2010

I’ve entitled this post “fourth day” in an attempt to encourage myself to write less and get this account finished: with each passing day I find that more has slipped out of my mind (for instance, there are several hours of this day that I no longer remember anything about), and in any case the fourth day of a nine-day conference that ended last week is hardly hot news any more. Having said that, I have tried the trick with several previous posts in this sequence and been forced to change their titles.

Yet again the organizers gave the first slot of the day to a speaker I couldn’t bear to miss — David Aldous, one of the world’s very top probabilists. So yet again I arrived exhausted at the convention centre. Incidentally, here is a photo (from the second day, as it happens) that shows what arriving at the convention centre looked like. If you look closely you’ll see that there is a dramatic gender imbalance: that is because the “ladies” had been told to go to a different queue. At first I was extremely surprised by this, but there was a simple reason for the segregation: the male queue had a male frisker and the female queue had a female frisker. You can also just make out the airport-like metal-detecting cuboid skeletons we had to walk through on entering the building.
Queueing to get into HICC
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ICM2010 — rest of day three

August 31, 2010

At some point earlier in the day — I forget exactly when — Oliver Riordan asked me whether I was going to a reception hosted by the British Council and EPSRC (the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council — an administrative body that decides how quite a bit of Britain’s science budget is spent). I had had an email invitation in the morning and not got round to replying to it, but Oliver said he was going over to an EPSRC stall in the large room where various publishers and other organizations had stalls, and would be happy to tell them I was coming, which they needed to know because it involved taking us to a hotel in the centre of town by bus. I thought, “Well, if Oliver’s going then I may as well go,” which turned out to be a good decision.

Also happening that evening was a performance of A Disappearing Number, a play by Théatre de Complicité, a British theatre company directed by, and co-founded by, Simon McBurney. If that name means nothing to you, you may still remember a seedy British diplomat in the film The Last King of Scotland. He was, or rather played, that diplomat. The play is partly about the Hardy-Ramanujan story, and has had several runs in Britain over the last two or three years, to great acclaim. Despite knowing Simon (about which more later) I had not got round to seeing it, but neither had I got round to getting a ticket for today’s performance while they were still available — which was OK because the play was on in Hyderabad both today and tomorrow.
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ICM2010 — Spielman, Csornyei, Lurie

August 31, 2010

I’ll begin this with a question: why is it that theoretical computer scientists are, on average, far better than other mathematicians at giving general-audience talks? Irit Dinur’s plenary lecture at the ICM was, as I have already said, excellent, but that kind of excellence seems to be the norm for theoretical computer scientists: I basically know, when I go to the TCS plenary lecture at an ICM, that I’m in for a treat. (But that is not the whole story at all. For example, I also know that if I’m at an additive combinatorics conference at which Ryan O’Donnell is speaking, then again I am guaranteed an extremely interesting, entertaining and comprehensible talk.)

Even by the exalted standards of theoretical computer scientists, Spielman’s talk was masterful. (If you’ve been reading all these posts, you may remember that I predicted this after hearing him answer a question at the post-opening-ceremony press conference. Well, my prediction was not just correct but hypercorrect.) He started by thanking all sorts of people who had inspired him to become a theoretical computer scientist, and even this he made interesting and amusing — for instance, he showed us a picture of one person, a high-school teacher or something, and ended a brief discussion of that person by saying, “And he was the one who made me want to become a mathematician.” And then after the next person he said, “And he was the one who made me want to become a computer scientist.” And at the end of the talk he somehow (in a way that I’ve now forgotten) brought the whole thing full circle and reminded us of these initial remarks about his early intellectual life.

During the talk, he marched about the stage, always talking to us, the audience, and never to his slides — it was as though he knew from memory what was in them, though there was something on the stage (other than the lectern) that may have been a display for the benefit of the speakers. I never quite got round to checking.
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ICM2010 — Avila, Dinur, plenary lectures

August 30, 2010

I dragged myself out of bed on the third day feeling pretty terrible — in fact, terrible enough to be slightly worried that I would be doing myself some damage with this succession of short nights, which I couldn’t see how to do anything about, given the necessity of starting early (a result of the schedulers’ evil decision to put superstars and known excellent speakers on in the first slot of the day). But nothing much distinguishes the beginning of the third day from the beginnings of the two previous days, so let me jump to the first talk, Artur Avila’s plenary lecture.

But before I do so, I have remembered one small thing that did make this day slightly different. In order to put on the unpleasant insect repellent, I took off my name badge, and then I forgot to put it back on again. I realized what I had done just as the bus was pulling out of the hotel. I wondered whether it was worth delaying the bus for three minutes while I dashed to my room and back, but Irit Dinur, who was in the same bus (I had not previously realized she was even at the same hotel, because she took a much more relaxed attitude than I did about getting up for the first talk — the previous day she’d watched the streaming video from the hotel instead), told me that she had forgotten hers yesterday, and the only consequence was that she had had to go and ask for a replacement. Well, that wasn’t quite the only consequence — the replacement badge no longer said, “Invited Speaker” on it, and she did not get a new set of coupons for lunch and coffee.

I decided I could handle walking around as a mere delegate, and could even handle not having a lunch coupon, though that was slightly disappointing. But for some reason when I asked for my replacement badge it was an exact replica of the original one and it did come with the coupons. (So in theory I could have had seconds for lunch the next day — but in fact I ended up not even having firsts.)

Artur Avila is young (we were told that he was this ICM’s youngest plenary speaker) and strikingly handsome in a black polo shirt and dark jeans, as this photo demonstrates rather inadequately.
Etienne Ghys and Artur Avila just before Avila's plenary lecture
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ICM2010 — rest of second day

August 26, 2010

[Update: this post is now complete.]

On my way to the ICM I bought my first ever digital camera. From the quality of the photo below, you may not be surprised to hear that it is my first, though actually I have taken some good photos with my wife’s — I just couldn’t seem to get mine to take decent photos in the windowless main hall of the convention centre, which was not very light but had screens that were lit in a way that made the rest of one’s photos come out dark. Also, I took this photo from a distance that meant that even with the zoom on full I had to crop it quite a bit to get what you see below. But that’s enough excuses — I also want to celebrate the first ever illustrated post on this blog. The picture shows Smirnov and Kesten just before the first of five talks given by a new Fields medallist or Nevanlinna prizewinner: Smirnov to give the talk and Kesten to introduce it.

Smirnov and Kesten just before Smirnov's talk
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ICM2010 — Nirenberg and Meyer laudationes

August 25, 2010

Normally at an ICM the first day has its own very distinct atmosphere because of the opening ceremony, the laudationes, and so on, after which the congress settles into a more regular, working format, with plenary lectures in the morning and invited lectures in parallel sessions in the afternoon. This year, because the number of prizes has increased and one of them needed inaugurating, some of the first-day feeling continued into the second day. And because my panel discussion was in the afternoon and lasted two hours, I had to miss the parallel sessions, so I personally had no sense of the ICM having properly started until the third day.
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ICM2010 — Chern prize inauguration

August 24, 2010

Yesterday I wrote a post in the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad. I couldn’t post it there because I wasn’t connected, but Dubai airport had free wi-fi so I could finish the job a few hours later. The ICM interrupted a holiday I was having in the South of France with my wife’s family, so now, after a refreshing four-hour night, I find myself at 6.30am in the rather less glamorous Luton airport, stupidly early for a flight on a rather less glamorous airline than Emirates, with whom I flew to Hyderabad and back. Talking of stupid punctuality, there’s a maxim I quite like, which is probably very well known but I heard it only within the last year or two, which is that if you have never missed a plane then you spend too much of your life in airports. I like the maxim, but I don’t live by it, because I have an irrational dread of missing planes, and an entirely rational lack of dread of spending time in airports — if all else fails, they are a pretty good place to do mathematics. Today, all else has not failed, since I have a charged up computer (that’s an issue these days — I think my laptop is due a new battery) and multiple blog posts to write. I haven’t quite decided what form these will take: I cannot possibly write about days 2-4 in the same amount of detail as I have written about day 1, but once I start, it is hard to stop. So do I prefer to keep up the detail and risk stopping in the middle of day 2, or to force myself to become a bit sketchier? Perhaps I’ll be detailed, but more selective about what I write about.
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ICM2010 — rest of day one

August 23, 2010

As I write this I'm sitting in the Rajiv Gandhi international Aiport waiting for a flight to Dubai. The ICM lasts till Friday, but for me it is over: with a son of two and a half, there are limits to how long it is reasonable to be away, and the marginal utility of the ICM has dipped below the marginal cost of staying away (or rather, that is how I judged it in advance). Actually, today (Monday the 23rd) is the half-way point and is a free day. Most of the delegates, to judge from the people I've spoken to, are taking the opportunity to go on ICM-organized tours. It is pretty tantalizing not to be doing that myself, but I leave India with a huge affection for the country and a strong sense that I'll be back.

Listening to five laudationes in a row is pretty gruelling — as I know from having done it five times now. After they were over, Assaf Naor asked whether I wanted to go and get a cup of coffee somewhere, or whether I would be listening to the talk by Varadhan, a recent Abel prize winner. To make my decision easier, he explained that he himself was skipping the talk only because he had heard it before, and he knew that it was excellent. I hesitated, and in the end decided that self-preservation was in order, a principle that I continued to adopt later. By that I mean that if you go to every talk that has a good chance of being superb, plus every talk that is sufficiently noteworthy that you don't want to miss it even if it is terrible, then you end up utterly exhausted. Because the laudationes had started late, there was very little break between them and the beginning of Varadhan's talk, and I just couldn't face three and half hours, or whatever it would have been, of continuous talk. The difference between this ICM and previous ICMs is that these little decisions of mine, which I normally like to make rather discreetly (which is particularly easy for parallel sessions, because you might always be at a different talk), are now completely public. But I think I'm ready to live with this.
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ICM2010 — Spielman laudatio

August 22, 2010

I’ve saved the best till last, which should not be taken as a negative comment about the other laudationes, since Gil Kalai’s was a tour de force. His first distinction was that he was the only one of the five speakers not to be wearing a tie. He was, however, wearing a suit, so the result was to look smart in a trendy way rather than smart in a more standard mathematician-giving-important-talk way. And he opened his talk daringly with the promise that his would be a comprehensible talk, which got a laugh from the audience.

On a more negative note, I was a bit shocked that a significant proportion of the audience got up to leave before he started, as if to say, “The real business is over — this is just the Nevanlinna prize.” All I can say is that it was their loss, not just because of the wonderful talk but also because of the wonderful mathematics described in the talk.
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