Beth Malmskog

Math etc.

Month: November, 2011

Sorry, shell method, we just weren’t meant to be. Maybe in another time, another calculus class…

How does the end of the semester, so long in the distance, so suddenly rear its head with such an anxiety-inducing roar?  I am not pleased.  There is just not going to be time for everything I want to do.  I’ve been through the stages of grief now:

1) Denial–“I’m totally going to get through everything.  Of course we’ll have time to talk about finding volume by the shell method!  And, even though the days don’t add up at all, I think I’ll plan on doing some fun applications of linear transformations at the end of the semester.”

2) Anger–“I hate you, snow storm!!  You stole my extra time!  Jerk!”

3) Bargaining–“If I prepare LaTex notes for all my classes, then I can talk really fast because my students won’t have to write, then can I get through the material?  If I stay up all night and make precision lesson plans, with minute by minute breakdowns, then will I have time to talk about the cross product?”

4) Depression–“My heart is broken.  I might as well quit teaching right now.  This is it.  Why bother?”

5) Acceptance–“Actually, we’ve gotten through a lot this semester and my students are going to know a ton.  They’re doing really well, and they be able to do the things that are really important for the future.  If we missed something, it’s not the end of the world.  They’ll totally figure it out.”

So, much like the e-collar that I finally accepted as part of my life with Arlo the dog, and the dark and cold that I accepted when the power was out, I have accepted the fact that we sure as hell aren’t going to get to calculating volumes in my Calc I class.  And we are not going to have time to spend on cool visualizations of linear transformations in Vectors and Matrices.  That’s it.  The best I can do is to talk about u-substitution and eigenvectors.  Everything extra is out the window now.  All I can do is give 3 more good lectures.

Other news: Our paper was accepted to the Proceedings of the AMS!  Way to go, team!


And some pictures from a Connecticut fall.



Same dog, same place, more snow.

Yellow and blue.



Red, yellow, and blue.


Orange and blue.

The Final Countdown

Late afternoon, rainy day in November.  My students just finished taking their second midterm exam.  On my desk: the usual Mason jar (my to go mug of choice) clutter, one knitting needle, two bulging file folders of ungraded tests, and a long list of application materials, e-mails, and travel arrangements to sort out.  But it’s Thursday, and tomorrow is my research day, so this is my big chance to write a little bit without it causing me to actually miss another deadline.  So–here’s the update.  We’re in the Final Countdown (cue lick from Europe song, (the ultimate late night math conference singalong)).  There are 5 more class sessions left in the fall semester and I am simultaneously relieved to see the end of the semester coming, sad that soon I won’t get to see these students any more, and really anxious to cover all of the important stuff.

I remember how this time of year felt when I was an undergraduate.  Final projects looming all over the place.  The idea that all of these projects and overdue homework assignments will be easily handled during Thanksgiving break.  The reality that I never started any of them until the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  Then I would stay up late for the next two weeks to work on everything.  Then I would get a bad cold, just like everyone else on campus.

The plague has already taken hold here at Wesleyan.  Students are e-mailing to report that they’ll be missing class, homework will be late, they are too sick to move.  I would suspect these illnesses as being perhaps too convenient but, after seeing some of these students face to face, I just hope they don’t die.  Seriously, there were some miserable people taking the test today.  And what a goldmine for the viruses involved.  42 stress-weakened students in one tiny little room, stuck there for 80 minutes, too distracted by the task at hand to defend themselves.  I feel like some kind of procurer.  You’re welcome, cold viruses.  I’m sorry, students.  Hope you feel better soon.

Lights on!

Me and my beloved headlamp, earlier this week.

Last weekend’s early snowstorm here in Connecticut reminded me of home (seems like there was always snow by Halloween in Laramie, WY), but my reminiscing was cut short when the lights went out at my apartment on Saturday night.  They stayed out, along with the heat and hot water, for several days.  I was a bit concerned because I had a talk scheduled for Tuesday at the University of Connecticut and I needed electricity to work on my slides.  However, hundreds of thousands of other people in the state were without power and had bigger problems, so I don’t want to complain too much.  I stayed warm enough and had great company.  I must say, though, I am really happy to report that the lights are back on!

The power also went out on Wesleyan campus on Saturday night.  It wasn’t until Tuesday evening that the main part of campus had steady power.  Classes were cancelled for two days.  The dorms and other student houses were dark and cold during that time, too, so many of the students also had a really tough week.  My classes were well attended on Thursday, though, which was great.  My students are awesome!

Despite the preparation darkness, the talk at UCONN went well.  I was pleasantly surprised to see some familiar faces in the audience–I hadn’t realized that Milena and Arendt, who I met as friends and visitors of CSU’s Renzo Cavalierri, were at the University of Connecticut.  I feel like Renzo possibly knows more people than anyone else on on earth.  Really nice to see them again.  I spoke about my recent work with Rachel Pries and Bob Guralnick on the automorphism groups off a family of maximal curves.  This was my first math talk since June, so I was worried I would be rusty, and of course imagining all of the incredibly hard questions that I would never have time to prepare to answer…  In fact the audience was engaged but friendly and I had a great time. It was great to talk about that work again and remind myself why I have been so crazy about that problem since 2007.

The week of talks continued with an algebra seminar here at Wesleyan on Friday, this time about Ihara zeta functions of graphs.  Had a good discussion afterwards with Chris Rasmussen, trying to think about how these graph primes decompose.  One more talk to go–on Tuesday the 8th I’ll be at UMASS Amherst for the 5 Colleges Number Theory Seminar, speaking about the automorphism groups again.  Can’t wait!  Neither can my Linear Algebra class, since they’re getting out early that day.  When I told them why, they were shockingly very interested in hearing about my work.  Seriously, my students are really cool.

In other news, we have a new paper on the arxiv: