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IMU-Net 37: September 2009

A Bimonthly Email Newsletter from the International Mathematical Union
Editor: Mireille Chaleyat-Maurel, University Paris Descartes, Paris, France

Editorial

In January 2007, the newly elected President of the IMU, Laszlo Lovasz, invited me to act as the Chair of the Program Committee (PC) for ICM 2010. Now that my work in that capacity is almost over, I share, at the much appreciated invitation of the Newsletter's editor, some of my experiences with the reader.

Of course, I did not accept the invitation right away. Rather, in the vain hope that Lovasz would withdraw his invitation, I pretended that I would do the job with more punctuality than enthusiasm, and more out of a sense of duty than driven by ambition. Lovasz, however, interpreted my comments as indicating a lack of "agenda" on my part, and felt reassured in his opinion that I was exactly the person he was looking for.

I immediately took three important steps. First, I provided myself with a conveniently split electronic personality by opening a separate computer account for all my ICM work. Second, I convinced one of the Leiden graduate students, Jeanine Daems, to act as my assistant on ICM matters, and my chairman to extend the support she was getting from the Department by a full year. And third, remembering how I had seen Nico Kuiper perform the same function many years ago, I procured a little notebook, which I always carried with me in order to jot down any suggestions that came to me when my computer was out of reach. All these suggestions concerned names: names of possible further PC members, names of suitable section panel members, names of people who knew things I wanted to know, names of mathematicians who are active in the third world, and, indeed, names of suggested speakers at the ICM.

The final list of speakers is now publicly available at the ICM 2010 website, but membership of the PC and the section panels remains secret until the Congress. This secrecy, which is imposed by the public IMU guidelines that I have been following, guarantees that the PC and panel members are not bothered by their colleagues and that all nominations for speakers are channelled through the only public figure in the process, the chairman. And I did indeed get scores of nominations, both from individuals and from all sorts of associations and societies. Every single one of them was, at least initially, taken completely seriously, and most got forwarded to the chairs of the appropriate section panels, of which there were twenty. The actual screening was done by the panels, who after working hard for over half a year came with their lists of sectional speakers. It was the PC's duty to put everything together while keeping an eye on balance issues, and to decide on the plenary speakers as well.

The PC met twice in Leiden, once in 2007 in order to determine the structure of the program and to select the section panels, and once in 2009 in order to reach all final decisions. Each time, a sizable collection of the world's most reputed mathematicians came to Leiden, and each time I was strongly inclined to organize a two-day symposium around my distinguished group of visitors. Instead, we had a two-day meeting in one of the university's more picturesque conference rooms, with internet connection and flip-over and all, at safe distance from my local colleagues. I do not believe that any chance encounter impaired the confidentiality that I was supposed to maintain. One PC member had discovered a compatriot among the Leiden postdocs, and during the weekend after our meeting the two of them discreetly biked off to the beach. Jeanine and I had organized a modest social program in the margin of our serious responsibilities, which were ultimately discharged in a spirit of cheerful conviviality.

My most important remaining duty is to actually attend the ICM 2010, which will take place August 19-27 in Hyderabad, India, and to observe how the decisions of the PC work out. All readers of the Newsletter are cordially invited to do the same.

Hendrik Lenstra, Universiteit Leiden
Chair of the Program Committee, ICM 2010.

IMU on the Web: On Mathematical blogs

It is said that among the requirements for mathematicians' fruitful working environment is a welcoming coffee (or tea) room, where colleagues gather to discuss ideas. Presumably, you use something which fits this description at your own place of work. You might rely upon it to varying degree, depending upon whether you want to chat about the weather, local politics, open problems in combinatorics or classic proofs in number theory.

The reason we of CEIC keep addressing the theme of expressing "Math on the Web" is that there seems to be looming ahead a vast potential for the local coffee room interaction to be hugely expanded via use of tools which bring such expression more directly to the internet. To quote Brian Hayes, "the web would make a dandy blackboard, if only we could scribble an equation on it". Blogs (short for 'weblogs') and wikis examples of general tools which are being turned to the purposes of many mathematical people- whether for research support, pedagogical purposes, or just social or cultural.

Technically, a blog is simply a software system (a small-scale content management system) which enables easy updating of a personal web page, typically chronologically organized, but offering also ways of browsing by category. Think of it as a diary, but with lots of extra possibilities, including being pointed to by other "diarists" writing in parallel with their own software. Add to the mix perhaps the possibility for a reading audience to append comments. There might develop something lively as a venue for discussion.

If you have read that most blogs receive a few entries and then are abandoned by their authors, and deal with trivial matters, you are right; after all no one knows exactly but it is estimated that there are at least 150 million blogs. However, blogs are becoming extremely important in current affairs writing and in certain academic areas such as law and economics.

Space does not allow a complete survey of mathematical blogs. Let us just mention a few. Timothy Gowers set up a blog in conjunction with his editorial work on the Princeton Companion to Mathematics. His blog led to much more than just some interaction regarding structure of a reference book. An organizing effort getting many contributors together to attack a mathematical problem resulted from his musings and reflections. The Polymath blog describes itself: Polymath projects are massively collaborative mathematical research programs, in which a single problem, group of problems, or other mathematical task is worked on by a large group of mathematicians. (While most polymath projects to date have been focused on solving a mathematical problem, one can envision other types of polymath projects in the future, e.g. a collaborative reading seminar, or a collaborative mathematical exposition project, or even some collaborative formulation of conjectures.)

Gowers credits Terry Tao, whose blog "What's New" has spun off project-oriented sites such as Tricki (problem solving techniques) and Dispersive Wiki, in addition to a traditional printed book, with inspiring him to start a blog.

We will conclude with a thought from John Armstrong, who writes "The Unapologetic Mathematician": Lawyers have "blawgs". Given the recent upsurge in the number of mathematicians blogging should we have a new term for us? I suggest "blath", and the term for our activity would be "blathering".

Carol Hutchins
Member, CEIC and Head Librarian, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, NYU, New York, USA

For Further Reading
michaelnielsen.org/blog/the-polymath-project-scope-of-participation/
scienceblogs.com/christinaslisrant/2009/08/an_overview_of_the_polymath_pr.php
terrytao.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/a-speech-for-the-american-academy-of-arts-and-sciences
wiki.henryfarrell.net/wiki/index.php/Mathematics/Statistics (lists academic blogs by subject)
golem.ph.utexas.edu/category/2009/08/what_do_mathematicians_need_to.html (discussion at the N-category cafe on what math people should know about blogging)
mathgradblog.williams.edu/(by and for math grad students)

International Conference of Women Mathematicians (ICWM 2010)

ICWM 2010 (International Conference of Women Mathematicians, Hyderabad, India, August 17-18 2010) will take place at the University of Hyderabad over the two days immediately before the International Congress in 2010.
See: www.icm2010.org.in/icwm2010.php
The meeting is aimed principally at women mathematicians attending the ICM (though men are also very welcome to attend), and in particular at young women mathematicians and women from Asia and from developing countries.The talks will be colloquium style lectures aimed at a general mathematical audience, and it is hoped that participants will be provided with an opportunity to meet other women mathematicians about to take part in the ICM and to find out about some of the areas of research to be covered at the ICM.

There will be nine lectures of 45 minutes each from the following speakers:
Julie Deserti (Paris, France)
Frances Kirwan (Oxford, UK)
Maryam Mirzakhani (Stanford, USA)
Neela Nataraj (IIT Bombay, India)
Raman Parimala (Atlanta, USA)
Mythily Ramaswamy (TIFR Bangalore, India)
Maria Saprykina (KTH Stockholm, Sweden)
Nathalie Wahl (Copenhagen, Denmark)
i Yana (CAS Beijing, China)

In addition to the lectures there will be a discussion forum and a conference dinner on the evening of 17 August.

Registration will begin on 1 January 2010. For more information contact the chair of the organising committee Shobha Madan ( madan@iitk.ac.in).

News from the African Mathematical Union (AMU)

At the General Assembly of the African Mathematical Union which took place in Yamoussoukro (Ivory Coast) on August 2, 2009, the following new Executive Committee members were elected:

President: Professor Saliou Touré (Ivory Coast)
Secretary General: Professor Oluwole Daniel Makinde (South Africa)
Treasurer: Professor Moussa Ouattara (Burkina Faso)

Regional Vice-Presidents:
Vice-President for North Africa: Professor Chikh Bouzar (Algeria)
Vice-President for West Africa: Professor Sam Ale (Nigeria)
Vice-President for Central Africa: Professor Juma Shabani (Burundi)
Vice-President for East Africa: Verdiana Masanja (Tanzania)
Vice-President for Southern Africa: Edward Lungu (Botswana)

For more information, contact Professor Makinde (makinded@cput.ac.za or dmakinde@yahoo.com)

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