Wednesday, April 25, 2007

99 Red Balloons

This past weekend, I went to the conference in Tucson that I had anounced a while ago.

My biggest worry about the whole thing, once I had secured my passport, was getting there. This turned out to be not much of an issue. That is not to say that it wasn't. It just turns out that it was no worse than the most common triggers of the dreaded effect. There was a moment in the ascent where the plane seemed to suddenly but briefly drop in altitude, which caused some discomfort, and things were fine until the plane began to descend in Phoenix four hours later. Here, it was definitely worse than at the beginning, but still not as unbearable as I had been expecting. The worst case seemed to be on the return trip from Tucson to Phoenix. Aside from this, the whole travelling portion trip went off without a hitch. I would have preferred not to leave at 2:00 am from Kingston, but no luggage was lost, there were no problems with tickets or customs, and all flights left on time. I was warned about problems with the ears popping, or not popping. I can't remember what exactly was supposed to cause the problems that never happened. As we changed altitude, I could certainly feel that there was a pressure difference building up, but it was nowhere close to uncomfortable. On may way out of the airport, I was also lucky enough to run into a friend who was waiting for his dad at the airport. Or rather, he was lucky enough for me to run into him. It was around 8:00 pm when I met him, and his dad's flight was supposed to arrive around 5:00 pm. I talked to him for at least a half an hour before he saw his dad.

The conference was good, but much lower key than I was expecting. All but one of the talks that I went to were those in the Special Session on Graph Theory and Combinatorics. Most of them were well presented and interesting, though they were quick. I'm used to going seeing one hour talks in seminars, whereas these talks were only twenty minutes each [1]. I haven't had much luck with Power Point (or related formats) talks, especially in math, though the ones given here were mostly well done. The one talk that I did go to outside of the special session was the second of three by invited speakers. The talk was not in my research area, and went from zero to incomprehensible in 60 seconds. I left after about 10 minutes, and I wasn't the first. Apparently the first talk by an invited speaker wasn't much better. We all decided not to go to the third. I had a chance to speak with most of the people who came to the session on graph theory and combinatorics, and, based on what I overheard from Saturday night's dinner conversation, I've now met pretty much every graph theorist and combinatorialist in the western United States. Yep. All ten of them.

I wish that I could have stayed in Tucson longer. I don't know how much longer, but longer. Looking out the window of my sixth floor hotel room, I could see mountains (real mountains, not Hamilton mountains) in almost every direction. The same would be true had my room been at the front instead of the back the hotel. If I had more time, I would have like to explore at least one of these mountains. The city seemed rather large in terms of area, though most of that consisted of low density housing, commercial, etc. There were very few highrise towers. I don't know if this has to do with the fact that such things are hard to build in the desert, or if it has do with the fact that sand is not a proctected species, and so sprawl isn't an issue. Most of the houses were, I think, stucco, or something that looks like stucco, or something that looks like what I think stucco looks like. Whatever it is, they looked a lot like stereotypical Mexican houses (the ones you see in TV shows, movies, etc.), which isn't surprising, since Tucson is only 60 miles from Mexico. Besides this, there were quite a lot of red brick houses. Most houses didn't have grass lawns, but rather sandy lots dotted by various sorts of cacti, or else trees that a Canadian would only have in potted form, and kept inside, such as palm trees (I think). The downtown, where most of the few highrise towers are located, was unimpressive, and, like my hometown of Hamilton, the area near the university (of Arizona) was more impressive and looked more like what you would expect (or hope) the downtown of a city to look like. The university campus was attractive. The University of Arizona is as enthusiastic about its red brick as Queen's is of its limestone. Perhaps moreso, since, unlike Queen's, they seem to have escaped the 60's lust for cold and forboding concrete structures. This was about as much of an impression of the city as I could get without use of a car.

Some other things:

  • I finally understand the phrase "It's a dry heat." I've heard this phrase many times, but I've never actually experienced one. It was 27 C on the Sunday. I spent about an hour and a half walking around in direct sunlight, I barely broke a sweat, and never once did it feel uncomfortable. None of those things would be true on a 27 C day in Southern Ontario. Being in Toronto for no more than 10 minutes, I could already feel the higher levels of humidity.
  • Among the weirdest things that I saw in Tucson was a firefighting supply store, I suppose in case anyone wants to start up their own firefighting company. Of course, fire departments need to get their supplies from somewhere, but I wouldn't expect to find them being sold amidst shops selling hemp and incense.
  • Tucson has a brew pub. Partial answer to "How much longer could I have stayed in Tucson?": Long enough to be able to sample each of their potent potables (to borrow a phrase from Kingston's brew pub). The pub had an automatic 18% gratuity for parties of 10 or more, which we were. This was a tad grating to me. My tips almost always fall into the 15-20% range, and this would have been no exception. But when you're forced to pay a gratuity, it's not a gratuity, but rather a fee for having been waited on. I hear this is common in Europe.
Finally, to answer everyone's favourite question. I didn't bring you anything. Don't take it personally, though. I didn't even bring myself anything.

[1] I'm told by one of my colleagues at RMC that this was long for a conference talk.


erin g said...

thanks for the update.

Andrea Hensen said...

what?! no firefighter hat! had you purchased said item you probably could have got into the brew pub as an entertainer, the gratuity would most likely have been waved, and offered beer on the house for the rest of the night. what were you thinking?!