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NES/MAA Meeting

Last weekend I attended the annual meeting of the Northeastern Section of the Mathematical Association of America (NES/MAA) held this year at St. Michael's College, near Burlington Vermont.

While on-campus housing was available, Leslie and I chose to stay at a Days Inn across the street from the campus, which worked fine, except for their WiFi, which unusably slow. Weekend weather was a mix of rain, clouds, and sun. The locals said that the rain was needed, and it was easy to put up with. The meeting was Friday afternoon through early Saturday afternoon, and we stayed on through Sunday morning, spending Saturday night doing the tourist thing in Burlington. Burlington is a beautiful small city, with lots of nightlife, particularly since there was a Jazz Fest going on. We had a tasty meal outdoors at the Irish Pub. Just after we ordered a downpour began, our waiter came out and reduced the height of our cafe umbrella, and we had a great time eating as the temperature cooled down and rain poured down inches from us.

I gave a 15-minute talk on my paper (described elsewhere on this blog), "Constructing a Quadrilateral Inside Another One". The talk was one of seven "Contributed Papers", which were scheduled in three rooms between 8 AM and 9 AM on Saturday morning. My talk was the first one, and not surprisingly the audience was small, but the talk was well received. My presentation used both PowerPoint and Geometer's Sketchpad and (since the local PC did not have Sketchpad) I had hook up my laptop. Fortunately, everything worked fine.

The talks were quite interesting, and the organizing topic seemed to be mathematical modeling in biology and environmental science. Even though Leslie is very much a non-mathematician, she is quite interested in the application areas, and she attended and enjoyed a couple of the talks. The most interesting talks for me were those by George Pinder, Christopher Danforth, and Charles Hadlock.

George Pinder of the University Vermont described a simulation of alcohol-assisted bioremediation of superfund sites.

Chis Danforth, also of UVM, gave the after-dinner Battles lecture entitled "Chaos and the Mathematics of Prediction: Hurricane Katrina, Harry Potter, and Happiness." The reference to Hurricane Katrina had to do with the difficulty of predicting weather, the Harry Potter reference is about the difficulty of predicting which children's book out of hundreds published annually might be the next blockbuster hit, and Happiness refers to trying to determine the emotional well-being of large populations over time by an analysis of the numbers of positive and negative words published online or in song lyrics.

Charles Hadlock of Bentley College spoke on Agent-Based Modeling in Teaching and Research. Agents are individuals who are part of a large population and whose behavior is directed (either probabilistically or deterministically) by nearby individuals. Think of Conway's Game of Life. Agent-based models are easily programmed, making them a good choice for student learning, and resulting animations, shown by Charles, have a mysterious beauty that appears very much like natural phenomena.

I found Mohammed Salmassi's short talk on using Spherical Easel for geometry education to be the most immediately useful, since he convinced me to use that software as part of my course on non-Euclidean geometry that I am teaching this summer.