Chain Bridge, Budapest

Friday, February 19, 2010

Solving My Math Problem

Looking back over this blog, I realize that I have only made one entry that actually deals with math. Since the "math" part of BSM is very quickly taking over my life, let me let you in on my math tribulations. We are almost done with the second week of classes, which leaves only one more week of the trial period before we have to register our classes for real. Previously in college, I had only taken at most two math classes at the same time, and even then that happened only once or twice. Now I have the prospect of three, four, or maybe even five math classes simultaneously. I could've done this before at UT, but (A) that would have been crazy (B) my liberal arts classes such as English got in the way, and (C) I hate taking a lot of classes at once 

My initial thought was to attend four to five math classes during the trial period and then decide to drop one before registration. However, I find myself not wanting to drop any of the math. They all look too interesting and important to drop. Here are my current options:

AL1 - Intro to Algebra
CO1B - Intro to Combinatorics
MPS - Mathematical Problem Solving
GRT - Graph Theory
NUT - Analytical Number Theory

And, oh yeah, I'm also taking the intensive intermediate Hungarian language class, HU2A. For the math classes, I don't want to drop algebra since that credit can directly fulfill a degree requirement back home at UT. Combinatorics, graph theory, and analytical number theory can all probably count for generic upper-division math credit, which I could also use. I'm not sure if MPS will count towards anything at UT, but its a signature BSM course developed specifically to introduce us to the Hungarian style of problem solving. I don't want to drop that class since it's so unique, plus the professor is really entertaining. He gives us a few minutes to silently work on a problem in class and when the time's up he plays a tune on a wooden ocarina that hangs from a string around his neck. I don't want to drop combinatorics either since Hungarian mathematicians are very well known for combinatorics. 

For your information, here are some sample combinatorics problems from my homework due tomorrow:
1. How many odd numbers between 1000 and 9999 have at least one even digit?
2. How many distinguishable permutations are there of the letters in the word optimization?

Those were the easy problems. I'll send a nice postcard to the first person who can email me the correct answers to either of them, and please include in your mailing address in the email.  

Back to the courses, that leaves me with only two classes to worry about: graph theory and analytical number theory. Both classes are a tie for the hardest class out of the five that I'm considering. One of them has got to go. This shouldn't be a hard decision, though. BSM has a very lenient system for dropping classes. You can switch any class to an "audit" which means that your noted for having attended the class in your transcript but a grade isn't recorded. You still have to attend class, but you don't have to do any homework or take any tests. Just sit and absorb information. The ultra-convenient part about the audit process is that you can switch a class to audit any time up till the week before school ends right before final exams. Sweet. I think the best way to get the most out of BSM without driving myself crazy is to take either 3 or 4 math classes for a grade and audit 1 or 2 other math classes in addition to taking the Hungarian language course. My hunch tells me to start taking algebra, combinatorics, MPS, and analytical number theory for a grade and audit the graph theory course. I would still have to attend graph theory, but that would be okay since I need to be at the school anyway on those days. I figure that I'll just keep attending and doing the homework for all the classes until the registration deadline next week. Hopefully a decision will become clearer by that time.

In a completely different vain, today the BSM group walked over the Renyi Math Institute near Astoria to watch a movie on Paul Erdos, the greatest Hungarian mathematician ever and an original founder of the BSM program in the mid 1980's. I didn't know much about the Erdos legend, except about the Erdos numbers. I knew that he was a very prolific mathematician; he published more papers with more people than anyone in history. Math people talk frequently talk about "Erdos numbers." They aren't something he discovered. It refers to the degree of separation you have as a mathematician to Erdos. Erdos himself has an Erdos number of 0. Anyone who published with Erdos has a number of 1. Anyone who published with those people have a number of 2, and so on. Most research mathematicians in the world today have Erdos numbers of 3 and 4. Erdos himself passed away in 1996 when he was 87 or 88 years old. His mind never faltered in old age and he still worked on advanced math problems until he died. In fact, he passed away while attending a math conference in Poland. What I didn't know about Paul Erdos was his transient lifestyle. He fled his hometown of Budapest in 1938 for America to escape from European fascists -- he was Jewish. He never truly developed a home life after that, constantly traveling from country to country to help his mathematician friends with problems wherever he needed them. He never had a real job and didn't teach consistently at any one university. He moved too much to be tied down for a whole semester. Judging from the movie and friend perspectives, he was also a very congenial person, willing to work equally with first-year graduate students fifty years younger than he was as older, established mathematicians. He used to give colloquium lectures to the BSM students in Budapest, and many of his colleagues still participate in the BSM program. The students in BSM are immersed in this close Hungarian mathematician community. I hope that I'll be able to take full advantage of this opportunity as the semester progresses.        

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