The life and self-reflections of a professional mathematician

Category: history



Fort Ross

“What a magic  place California is!…
The best years of my life were spent there;
I reverently carry the memory of them in my soul.”
A. Rotchev, the last manager at Fort Ross.

In Spring 1812, about one hundred Russians and native Alaskans arrived in northern California and established a colony called Fort Ross. The main goal of the settlement was to supply the Alaskan colonies with food and hunt fur-bearing sea otters. In 1820s, however, it was recognized that the otter population was going down, and the Russian-American Company established hunting moratoriums on sea otters in the North Pacific. This was the earliest known effort at marine conservation. Among other innovations,  four ships – three brigs and a schooner – were the first ships built on the California coast. Also, the Fort Ross settlers built the California’s earliest windmills. In 1841, Alexander Rotchev, the last manager of Fort Ross, was ordered to sell the settlement. The fortress was sold to John Sutter, a Swiss pioneer of California, famous for his association with the Gold Rush

This summer, we have visited Fort Ross. I left overwhelmed with two feelings:
1) a strong respect for inventive Russian colonists, true patriots, who established the settlement and lived in peace with the  native Kashaya Pomo people and Mexicans.
2) a deep gratitude to American people for preserving Fort Ross, a unique piece of our common history.

01. The chapel, originally built in the mid-1820s,
was the first Russian Orthodox church in North America outside of Alaska.

02. The Kuskov House is the reconstructed residence of Ivan Kuskov, founder and first manager of Ross. Kuskov named settlement Ross and managed it from 1812 to 1821.

03. The arsenal located at the ground floor of the Kuskov House.

04. Inside the Kuskov House.

05. Among the later visitors to Ross was naturalist and artist Ilya Voznesenskii. He was sent by the Imperial Academy of Sciences to explore and investigate Russian America.

06. Russian icon.

07. Two-story Russian-American Company warehouse.

08. Tools room

09. A collection of jack planes

10. The Northwest and Southeast blockhouses were watchtowers for guards with cannons, who protected all sides of the fort from potential threats. Fortunately, the protective value of the fort never needed testing.
A view from the Southeast blockhouse.

11. A view on the Fort.

12. A view from the Northwest blockhouse.

13. Kitchen garden outside of Fort Ross.

Feynman on Bananas

When a researcher starts to think about something new, something he does not understand, he often feels confused and stupid. Doing research is unhappy business. Everybody has his own trick how to overcome this heartbreaking feeling. Mine is to watch the following video where Richard Feynman is talking about bananas :) When I see that even Feynman feels stupid, I feel much better!

Seven Years After

Prof. Dr. Alexey Chernov and I
Raleigh, NC, April 5, 2012

Data Visualization

If I were in UK, I would go to London Transport Museum to see a new poster display showing historical versions of data visualization, Painting by Numbers. Very nice stuff.

By the way, speaking of transport, who in the world can tell me when the USC metro station is going to open?

Academic Genealogy

I spent a couple of recent evening at the Mathematics Genealogy Project digging up my academic genealogy. According to the database, my full academic genealogical tree (which is not a tree in mathematical sense!) has 131 vertices and 150 edges. Below is a small portion of this graph. I have brilliant “genes” :)


Markov on Thanksgiving

In stead of turkey I hoover up the biography of A. A. Markov by Grodzensky (mainly on the way to Monterey, where we spent this thanksgiving watching whales in the ocean and fish in the aquarium). Markov was  not only a great mathematician, he was a prominent person, very honest, independent, and straightforward, a true patriot (in the best sense of the word) of Russia, a true Russian. Markov chains are used everywhere in science and applications, and yet there is no a complete Markov’s biography written in English. This paper and this webpage  are excellent, but it is not enough: there is so much more to say about Andrey Andreyevich! The biography written by Grodzensky (in Russian) is good, but its direct translation into English would not be that interesting for foreign readers as it is for Russians since the book assumes a certain level of knowledge of Russian history. Someone should write a biography of A. A. Markov in English from scratch!