Posted by Jason Polak on 25. May 2018 · Write a comment · Categories: life · Tags:

Over the years I have tried many systems to keep math notes: paper notebooks, offline WordPress installation, LaTeX files in folders, and random papers that get left on my desk for too long. None of these were ideal for all purposes. Here are the main drawbacks of each system:

  1. Paper notebooks are actually good for learning things. For reading material like books or papers in detail, paper notebooks are the best system for keeping myself on-track of going through every detail, line by line. However, the linear fashion of notebooks makes them hard to consult for main ideas. Additionally, they take up significant space.
  2. My offline WordPress installation consists of WordPress installed on Apache running on my laptop. I found it pretty terrible for notes. The blog format is good for presenting self-contained ideas over time but not so good for consulting old notes because it is not built for organising systematic knowledge. Note however, that I still use my offline WordPress installation to test-drive posts for this blog before they go live.
  3. Using LaTeX is the obvious solution to writing mathematical notes. And for large works, like complete books or papers, it is the best. However, for a general mathematical notebook, a bunch of random LaTeX documents are not easy to organize or search.
  4. Using random loose sheets of paper works for taking notes to help me learn. In this case, writing is just a tool for learning and not for storing information. After I just recycle them.

However, I've finally found system for taking notes that works. More »

Posted by Jason Polak on 05. June 2012 · Write a comment · Categories: life · Tags: , ,

Conferences are a great opportunity to learn mathematics, mainly by meeting others in your field. In this post we'll look at some ideas on how to make the most of attending a conference. The original version of this post was based upon my trip to Strasbourg but since then I've been to a few more conferences and have updated this guide significantly.
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Posted by Jason Polak on 30. May 2012 · Write a comment · Categories: life, math

According to the activities page, I should be in Strasbourg right now. In fact, I am in Strasbourg! Here is a typical city picture:

Strasbourg River

Now, my intention is to write a series of blog posts briefly summarising the conference. This post is just a summary of summaries, and the upcoming posts will be the actual summary of the talks. The first one should appear today or tomorrow at the latest.

Now before you think I should be a better tourist and hence I should be outside sampling the delicious noisette ice cream that costs three euros, I actually need to summarise what has happened so far so that I understand the upcoming lectures. Otherwise I won't get much out of the lectures, some of which contain much new material, and that would be a shame indeed. However I have a few extra days here during which I promise to be the most involved tourist imaginable, perhaps even visiting every single shop in the downtown area.

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Posted by Jason Polak on 28. October 2011 · Write a comment · Categories: life · Tags:

This interview is a start in what I hope to be a series of posts illustrating the human side of mathematics. Mathematicians as a group have distinctive cultural features. We have our own specialized humour and shared experiences that bring us together and make us laugh. A week ago, I read an interesting article by John Swallow entitled "Mathematical Community" in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, which reminded me of the unfortunate truth—very few people outside of the mathematical community really knows what being a mathematician is about.

I hope that this will change, and I feel that it is very important to inform the general public about the work of mathematicians. And by this I don't mean the technical details, but the culture and the general ideas that we work with every day. As part of this initiative, I thought I would interview a few of my fellow graduate students at McGill. My first interview is with Benjamin Smith, who is a PhD student in geometry.
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