A while ago, I tweeted that “Maths is in my heart”. Trixie Barretto was inspired by that to make a video of me: which is now posted on vimeo: “mathematician”.

Since it came out two days ago, I’ve posted the link on twitter, facebook and Google+. I am struck by how many people have been touched by it. Here are some quotes from people’s comments:

  • “Exquisite portrayal of love of math.”
  • “Great short film. I have never heard someone talking about Maths like this before.”
  • “What makes this video truly moving is that it depicts how a love of mathematics can carry someone through tough times.”
  • “If you wonder how people can love math, or know someone who is wondering this, this video may help.”
  • “A very nice presentation of her relationship with this tool of the mind. it is interesting how she relates to mathematics with feeling like most people do with music.”
  • “Very inspiring!”
  • “I think many, perhaps even most mathematicians feel some of these emotions – but most are not so good at conveying them.”
  • “A beautiful story, I wish I had better mathematical understanding of the world.”
  • “Thanks for this! It’s very inspiring. 🙂 I’m trying to get myself more interested in mathematics, and it’s great to learn a bit about a female mathematician from a personal point of view. Not something I see every day!”

I hope you can share it too, in particular, with school children and teachers who may want to spread the good news about how human an activity mathematics is.

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AustMS on twitter

The Australian Mathematical Society is now on twitter! You can read the posts by following “austms” or by looking at the RSS feed on the front page of the AustMS website.
The latest post I read (on 10 Oct 2010) was How to cut a bagel into two linked halves: http://dlvr.it/6ksJc (one for the topologists!) #mathematicallycorrectbreakfast.

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After the election

On Tuesday September 7, 2010, seventeen days after the election on 21 August, Australia finally had a new government.

I was in India for the International Mathematical Congress in Hyderabad (and before that a satellite meeting in Pondicherry followed by the General Assembly of the IMU in Bangalore) and had voted early before I left Australia on 07 August. On the night of 21 August, I was frantically trying to check the ABC Elections website, face book, twitter, … anything to get some news of the election results. I had gotten too used to being able to get fairly definitive results by midnight on election day in Australia. Little did I know it would take another 17 days!

What a tumultous period of time it turned out to be. The media were running around chasing any small, faint scent trails it could. The independents, Katter, Oakeshott, Wilkie, Windsor, turned out to be wonderful. They truly were speaking from the heart and working for the issues they held dear to the heart, rather than relying on spin as our major parties had come to do. I only wish I had had the occasion to meet them to let them know more about the downtrodden, bedraggled state of mathematics education we had come to in our country.

Australia now has a minority government composed of the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Greens, and three independents (Oakeshott, Wilkie, Windsor). Many parliamentary processes, including question time, have been changed. Voting pairs have been introduced in the House of Representatives. I am looking forward to a term of goverment with truly engaged members of parliament who are persuasive deep thinkers, who will champion and speak up about major issues. Ok, I’m probably dreaming!

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Being Head of the School of Mathematics and Statistics at Sydney has been an experience like no other. I wanted to insert other phrases in that sentence. But I defrained partly out of politeness, partly because it is difficult to be accurate about something that is akin to experiencing a complicated, unpredictable force of nature.

I look forward to the long calculations, the more relaxed conversations, the dreaming about intricate equations again. My family look forward to having my heartspace and mindspace back, as much as I can give it.

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The PainlevĂ© equations and Ugh boots

I have been working on the PainlevĂ© equations for most of my life as a mathematician. They were written down and studied by PainlevĂ© and his students, Gambier, Garnier, and others such as Picard, R. Fuchs, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. For most of the time since then, they have been ignored by mathematicians. Then in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, they were identified as reductions of soliton equations, like the Korteweg-de Vries equation, and they started being recognized as interesting. Now they are regarded as universal objects that occur in random matrix models. It occurred to me that they are like “ugh boots”, slippers and boots made out of sheepskin long seen in Australia as comfortable but not presentable objects that you might wear in your bedroom but never out. Now, as you may know, they are fashion accessories worn by Hollywood stars!

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