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2010 Abel Prize

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

John Tate

Just by chance, I went to the website of the American Mathematical Society tonight and thereby stumbled on the news (which I would have learned soon enough) announced earlier today that John Tate is the 2010 recipient of the Abel Prize. The prize, established in 2001 by the Norwegian government, has been awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters each year since 2003 to one or two outstanding mathematicians. It is named in honor of the great, early-nineteenth-century Norwegian mathematician Niels Abel and may be regarded as the mathematical counterpart of Nobel Prizes.

I wrote about the Abel Prize last June, in the wake of an article that week in the NYT reporting on the news that three of the recipients were NYU faculty members. As I noted at the time, according to the history of the Abel Prize given at their site, the idea for a math prize that would parallel the Nobel Prizes and be named after Abel goes back to 1899, when it was championed by that other great Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie.

John Tate spent much of his career at Harvard, later moving to the University of Texas. The award is being given to him “for his vast and lasting impact on the theory of numbers.” You can read more about today’s announcement here and here.

I didn’t take a course from Tate when I was an undergraduate, but I wasn’t so foolish as to miss out on the opportunity altogether. During my third year in graduate school, I made it a point to attend his graduate number theory course, walking down to the Harvard Science Center from my apartment three mornings a week before heading over to MIT. Great course.

Categories: Math

Batter Up

March 24, 2010 1 comment

I’m ready. I know, we’re in the midst of March Madness, the greatest season on the US sporting calendar. And what a four days of basketball we had last week! Plus, my own school (Washington, that is) is right in the hunt. If it weren’t for Cornell’s surprise success, we might be getting all the attention this week.

But — basketball is boring. Really. Okay, underdogs win. Surprises happen. But who wants to watch intentional fouls and timeouts and foul shots and more timeouts? That’s exciting? I happened to turn on one of the first round games with 40 seconds left. Ten minutes later, the game hadn’t ended yet. I’m not exaggerating. I timed it. (In contrast, how about Michigan State-Maryland? Joel and I were stunned that a game could still end that way. In the final 40 seconds or so, Maryland scores to go ahead for the first time since early in the game, Michigan State retakes the lead, Maryland retakes the lead, Michigan State scores to win as time runs out. Forget the time outs and foul shots. Not with one-point margins. But this is the rare exception.)

I mention all this by way of saying: It’s time. Bring on baseball.

And for those of us in Seattle, let’s take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are. We are about to enter our tenth year of getting to watch Ichiro. Not everyone is so lucky. St. Louis is, thanks to Albert Pujols. Who else? Who gets to see one of the great baseball players in history for so long?

How great is Ichiro? Some have argued that his impact is limited, because despite his high batting average, he doesn’t walk much (so his OBP is not so high) and he doesn’t hit for power. I’m certainly not going to argue that his value to a team is equal to Pujols’. But in any case, this isn’t my point. My point is that in his own way, Ichiro is one of the great players in history. And I don’t need to work too hard to make this argument, for Joe Posnanski has done so this afternoon in his latest blog post. A sampling:

I don’t think there has ever been a player in baseball history quite like Ichiro Suzuki.

Or, anyway, there certainly has not been a player quite Ichiro since Deadball, when players like George Sisler and Ty Cobb whacked lots of hits and didn’t walk much and stole bases. Sisler, in many ways, seems like a decent offensive comp to Ichiro — great batting averages (Sisler .340, Ichiro .333), surprisingly low corresponding on-base percentages (Sisler .379, Ichiro .378), good stolen base numbers, some ridiculously high hit seasons (Ichiro, of course, broke Sisler’s hit record when he picked up 262 in 2004. They are the only two players to have two seasons with 240 hits).

But that’s just offense. And while Sisler was a first baseman — and there has been some disagreement about how good — Ichiro is one of the most dynamic defenders of his time. You have already seen, I hope, the catch he made during a spring training game on Tuesday — it’s spectacular. I have watched in about 23 times already today, and I’ll probably watch it at least a few more before dinner. One catch does not define a player, I suppose … but just WATCH THAT CATCH. It tells you an awful lot about the kind of defensive player Ichiro has been for almost a decade now.

And, of course, Ichiro has a fabulous arm, the best of his generation. There will always be those who say no one can compare to Clemente defensively, and I would not argue the point. But Clemente is just a touch before my time … and I think Ichiro is the best defensive right fielder I have ever ever seen.

Batter up!

Categories: Baseball, Sports

Chocolate Tasting

March 24, 2010 1 comment

In January, after a months-long battle, Cadbury agreed to be taken over by Kraft. (See, for instance, here.) Last September, in the early days of the battle, I lamented the decline in quality of Cadbury products available in the US, such as Dairy Milk, owing to the fact that they are produced here not by Cadbury but by Hershey. Fortunately, the real thing is available in Canada. Some go there for drugs. We go for chocolate. But will Cadbury quality remain unchanged in the years to come? We can only hope.

Meanwhile, how does one put into words the difference in taste between real and ersatz Cadbury chocolate? To the rescue comes Clotilde, one of my favorite food bloggers, who wrote a post yesterday on How To Taste Chocolate. She had visited the Valrhona chocolate factory in Tain-l’Hermitage, France, last week and was reporting on what she had learned. I will provide an excerpt in a moment from her account of the lessons provided by Vanessa Lemoine, Valrhona’s expert on sensory analysis.

Now I need to buy a Hershey’s chocolate bar, head up to Vancouver to get a Cadbury bar (or maybe it would be simpler to drive across the lake to Redmond and stop at The British Pantry), and do a taste comparison using Lemoine’s tips. It might also be appropriate to grab some Fran’s chocolate from nearby U Village as a third entry.

Clotilde, channeling Vanessa Lemoine:

So next you’ll place a piece of chocolate in your mouth, chew briefly to accelerate the release of the flavor components, then let the chocolate melt between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, and concentrate on your sensations.

The first component that will manifest itself is acidity: if the chocolate is acidic (which is not a fault, unless it’s overwhelming), it will trigger salivation right away, and you’ll feel it on the sides of your tongue and underneath it. Note the scale of this sensation, and whether it fades quickly or stays with you throughout the tasting.

Breathe out through your nose slowly with your mouth closed, and try to describe the aromas you perceive through retro-olfaction. They will appear in stages: the first ones you’ll get are the fleeting, delicate notes of fruit or flower, followed by warmer notes of spice, roasted nuts, or toasted bread. Woody, malted or earthy notes will appear in the finish. Note the intensity of each aroma. Vanessa Lemoine noted that any smoky or smoked aroma in chocolate was, in her view, a defect.

Try to be as specific as possible in describing the aromas: if you sense something fruity, is it berries, is it stone fruit, is it citrus? Is it a fresh fruit aroma, or a jam-like one? If the chocolate is floral, is it jasmine, rose, orange blossom…? It can be a real brain challenge to put a name on the aroma you’re smelling, but you’ll get better with practice. It’s helpful to conduct tastings with other people, too, so you can share impressions.

Bitterness will make its presence known toward the end, and it will become more and more noticeable and persistent in subsequent bites. Bitterness is perceived by receptors placed at the back of the tongue in a V formation (pointing toward the throat), so be attuned to a sensation in that region of the mouth: is it strong? Does it linger?

You should also note the texture of the chocolate on your tongue: does it feel dry and brittle (not a good thing), or is it lithe and fresh, or is it creamy, so creamy as to coat your tongue and the roof of your mouth?

Categories: Food