Monthly Archives: July 2013

So. I’ve been at the Project NExT workshop, and I have bjillions of reflections about my own teaching to share, but I need to synthesize them. (Also, the schedule is packed!)

In the meantime… You know your graduate school trained excellent problem-solvers when, as part of a group of about a hundred people waiting to take elevators up from the third floor, you decide to dash down the stairs to the second floor to catch the elevator and you see the rest of the people from your grad program already casually waiting in the empty elevator lobby. Good thinking, Tanner, Eric, Dave, and Katie! (Ashley, where were you?)

Go Big Red!

Algebra: what is it good for? 1

You only get to say “absolutely nothing” if you sing it.

Today I’m headed to Hampshire College to talk about ideals, varieties, and their applications.  If you were lucky enough to sit through my job talk, you already know (or at least already dozed through) what I’ll talk about.  Starting with a 4 by 4 sudoku puzzle, I’ll define ideals and varieties and explain how they’re useful for solving problems (like… a 4 by 4 sudoku puzzle).

Now, I’m a commutative algebraist, so I love polynomials almost as much as life itself.  The first question you might have is, “What the hell do polynomials have to do with sudoku?” It turns out that you can work in a polynomial ring with 16 variables (or 81 variables for the 9 by 9 case) and model the “game space” for all legitimate game boards.  Have a specific board in mind?  Then add in a few more polynomials that describe the given clues.  This isn’t going to give you a local ring, but that’s okay.  Using primary decomposition, you can find the primary decomposition of your game board ideal, and this will tell you about the number of solutions (whether there are any at all, whether there is exactly one, or whether there are many).

It’s really cool stuff.  I admit that the talk gets pretty hand-wavy right around primary decomposition (analogy to factoring prime numbers), but I think it’s pretty compelling.

Anyway, my friend and former officemate Amanda Croll and I are going to work on writing up a nice, rigorous version of the paragraphs above.  I think it would make a nice piece for an undergraduate-friendly journal along the lines of Math Horizons.

But I digress a little.  One of the exciting trends in algebra right now is that, hey, lots of statistical models are actually polynomial models.  These models answer questions in evolutionary genetics, economics, quantum physics, and other cool areas.  Why use all the calculus machinery when you have lovely, classical commutative algebra and algebraic geometry at your fingertips?

A big thanks to Alex Kunin for inviting me out to Hampshire College’s HCSSiM program.  I’m so excited to talk about algebra! To a captive audience!



Although I’m a linux girl at heart, and will certainly run Ubuntu on my laptop, I requested a mac here at Hamilton because (a) they (reasonably!) don’t support linux for faculty and (b) that means that to run Macaulay2 and other commalg software, I needed a mac.  Having once tried to get M2 running on a windows machine….

Anyway, my office is suh-weet!  I’ll take pictures once I have some of my stuff in here (read: my books!).

Packing it all up and hitting the road 1

Yesterday, my friends helped pack up my “relocube” (review of the abf freight upack service to follow…) for my impending move. Luckily, my friends are masters of time and space, and the packing went quickly. Of course, I’ve been on crutches following the knee injury (bursitis, no infection; prognosis is pretty good once I find time to rest my leg!). So I wasn’t really able to do much except worry, nag, and totter around in the way of everyone. The day ended with a trip to The Mill to visit Tall Courtney (even though I blame her for my knee injury…just kidding!) and a trip to Ivanna Cone with Mom and Joan.

Today I cleaned out my gym locker, turned in my keys for the UNL math building, said goodbye to the amazing office staff and some of my fellow Coffee House regulars.  My moving help is coming by for pizza in half an hour, and I’ll bat my eyelashes and see if they’ll put the last few things in my car for me. Then a few last goodbyes, and tomorrow morning we hit the road bright and early (but first stop, coffee, duh).

Emotions are running high. I’m so excited for my new job, and I can’t wait to get to know my new colleagues, students, and neighbors. But I’m going to really miss my friends here in Lincoln. And although the math world is quite small and I’ll see my math pals around the math scene, it’ll be harder to see my Lincoln friends without inventing reasons to come back (or convincing them to come hang out and go camping in the Adirondacks and climbing at the Gunks…). Also, I’m gonna call out the entire Northeast and make the bold claim that there is no coffee of great quality within a half hour radius (please prove me wrong!) of my new home or my parents’ home. I need some recommendations for a home espresso set up. Also, I’ll be taking applications for live-in barista-butlers…

Thanks for the moving help is owed to (in order of arrival): my Mo mom, Gail; Ben; Marilyn and Gregg; Josh; Anisah; Lauren; Katie and Nathan; Beca; Colin; Tony; and Eric, who came just in time to watch the container get locked up.  Thanks to Joan for the help with laundry! And thanks for everyone who offered moral support. I needed it!



But remember, I’ll be back in August for graduation.

Rough time for my left knee


Between racquetball, this running habit I’m trying to start, and the general clumsiness that characterizes my day-to-day existence, my poor left knee is a mess. The major problem is that one of the bursa near the knee is swollen and painful, making walking, running, biking, and even standing too long pretty painful. The treatment is rest, ice, compression, elevation (plus ibuprofen and a bad attitude); and yet, it’s just getting more stiff and swollen and hot to the touch.

As I write wrote this, I was sitting in the health center at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln for what I hope is the last time (but I’ve got a week, so, probably not; in fact, I see the dentist this afternoon), waiting for the ortho guys to weigh in on my xrays remotely. I got sent their way on a pair of crutches. Turns out student insurance does cover crutches, so hooray!

Now I’m sitting waiting for the doctor here at Nebraska Orthopaedic to squeeze me in between appointments and see if my knee is infected or otherwise F-ed up in a way that needs immediate treatment. Details later (if they’re cool. Otherwise, know that my knee is fine but overworked).

What have I learned from this experience so far? Well, I’m not good at “taking it easy” and sitting around with my leg elevated. And I’m too stubborn about some things, like sticking to a schedule for getting in shape even if my body isn’t up to the task at hand. And seriously, Gibbons, there’s no reason to take pride in overdoing things! Pride goeth before the fall and all that, except I didn’t even fall. I just ended up with a swollen knee. I’m so lame (pun intended).

Mathematically, I’m curious to know what the normal volume of this particular bursa sac is, and how the surface area of my knee changes over time as the ibuprofen and ice pack benefits wear off. There’s kind of a gradual ballooning that takes place, which could make for an interesting multivariate calculus problem (change in surface area and volume over time? Application of Green’s theorem, maybe?). Leave me some ideas in the comments!


Oh, I do relish a good juxtaposition: the first post of the new blog is about saying “goodbye.”

In almost exactly one week, I drive from Lincoln, NE (my home for the last 6 years and change) to Clinton, NY (my forever home, I sincerely hope). We’re not even going to touch that emotional black hole in this post, though, except obliquely.

Today, one of my best friends from graduate school is making the drive from Lincoln to University of Northern Alabama, and here I am, sitting in our regular coffee shop, hoping she’ll stop for one last earl grey on her way. Ashley and I were always friendly, but I’d say we became friends through our repeated visits to this very coffee shop. We enjoyed watching the cast of characters. She plotted with me to get my one-time barista crush to notice I existed. Our relationship moved from the Coffee House (13th and P; best coffee, cutest baristas) to the racquetball court and to our Tuesday night “seminars” where we caught up on the latest episode of Castle before heading to compete for bottle openers at a local trivia contest.

As a gift, Ashley made me a set of Doctor Who themed coasters: the 9th through 11th doctors and Captain Jack. There are 8 coasters; four of them are shirtless pictures (these range from pleasant to…please, someone cover that up with a drink, stat). And I adore them! My gift to her was showing her how to get into one of the harder-to-access places in the math building.

I’m going to miss her!

So this is practice at commemorating a great friendship through blogging (not that it’s over, but it will definitely change forms now that she can’t quite so regularly wipe the floor of the racquetball court with my sorry ass). Ashley, I’m looking forward to following your progress from newbie to indispensable pillar of the math department. That’ll take, what, a week?

Safe driving, friend.