Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Life in SLO Motion

Here I am in San Luis Obispo, California.

Saturday I awoke at 5 AM to catch the flight to Los Angeles. I had a great conversation with carpenter Darnell, who was on vacation with his wife; they had missed their flight to Vegas the day before, and were trying to rent a car in LA to drive there and enjoy the rest of their reservations. He told me he was applying to become a firefighter, but would only be hired if the local tax increase would pass, and asked what I was going to research this summer. I explained quotients of polynomial rings, which doesn't scratch the surface of what I will be studying (more on that later), but I was impressed at how quickly I explained and how quickly Darnell grasped the concept. Especially on four hours of sleep.

Then I took the LA public transit system (carrying over 90 lbs. of luggage) to Union Station, having a short talk with a family visiting from New Zealand (asking, unfortunately, if they were from the UK) and with a mother visiting her sister and children in Compton. I had lunch (no restaurants in Union Station; I've never been so happy to see a Denny's sign across the road) and boarded the Amtrak train.

There I sat next to a carpenter (again!), this one a man who had surfed each day of his life till he was 35, quit for 5 years, and now was trying to break into professional surfing after impressing some famous surfboard maker. This, in addition to playing the guitar and starting to market inventions (bike trailers, floors that raise and lower). He seemed to have quite an interesting life.

The sun was going down over the ocean as the train went north; the scenery was beautiful, with horse ranches and mountains everywhere I looked. I arrived in SLO, met my roommates, got cheap burritos, and played Phase 10 till 2 in the morning California time (making a 23-hour day for me).

Sunday and Monday were medleys of barbecues, campus tours, and Ultimate Frisbee. The weather is unbelievable, the campus is great to walk through (although eerily empty this summer), and the student apartments they gave us are incredible. As one of the other REU participants remarked, "It's like The Real World for math nerds!"

But ah, yes, the math. This morning I and two others met with Dr. Richert to discuss our project in Smallest Graded Betti Numbers, and I can say that I finally comprehend the title of our investigation. (No, I don't think I'm able to explain it.) The next few weeks should tell whether we're going to discover something new or just stay stuck; the professor hasn't looked into our question before, so there's little but instinct to go on as of yet.

So all is well, and this is shaping up to be an excellent summer.

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