June 25th, 2015

krazy koati

And let it go right over my head

The conference was organized the way academic conferences typically are: roughly two-hour sessions of people somehow thematically linked giving talks that are supposed to be about twenty minutes, with ten minutes for questions. Most speakers run long. Some of the session runners had questions follow each talk; some had all audience questions held for the end. To an extent, asking questions is a prestige-generating operation. A good question marks you to your colleagues as a sharp, quick thinker. If you can't think of a good question, you can go for a long one. Some people were extremely good at filibuster-questioning. There'd been some the first day I thought might never finish asking their questions. bunny_hugger told me there was someone even worse after I went to the hotel room.

bunny_hugger was thus afraid what the questions asked of her might be like. She wasn't confident her talk was as substantial as other's. I pointed out that she was the first person in her block. If the session runner had questions held to the end then there'd be forty minutes, maybe an hour, between when she'd finish speaking and when shorter speeches disguised as questions started. They might well forget she was even on stage.

The other people in her session were speaking in French; she was the lone English-speaking presenter. So the session runner decided she should take questions after her talk, and then the questions for the French speakers would be combined together. So no relief there. And Peter Singer was in the audience, as she got started.

I thought she gave a good talk. It felt more interesting to me because it talked about the differences between utilitarian and Kantian perspectives on animal rights. The subject felt like the kind of thing less explored by the other speakers. I noticed Peter Singer had his laptop out, but he was actually taking notes, the way students claim they do in class. bunny_hugger got a couple of questions, not too many, and none that seemed devastating to me.

Her presentation was on time, almost exactly the scheduled twenty minutes. This is a glorious rarity in academic conferences. (Rarer still: people who run short, and give things a chance of getting back on schedule.) Her session-mates ran long. The last one, whom I thought we'd talked with at lunch the day before, threatened to never finish. The session runner had notes passed along --- bunny_hugger noted some of them warned, like, ``3 Minutes'' --- but he wasn't having any of it. His slides were all in French, and crammed full of text. Add to that questions and bunny_hugger was stuck there, sitting up on stage, only understanding the occasional word for a grueling hour.

Later on, bunny_hugger got to ask her own question, a compact and not excessively showy one that was the sort of thing she expected Peter Singer would have asked if he was there. He was there, it turned out, just sitting farther back, behind us. He even asked a follow-up, mentioning bunny_hugger by first name, as though everyone should be expected to remember her. (Apparently he only stuck around for presentations in English, and made his apologies to duck out for the ones given in French. He does have a lot to do. He apologized for ducking out early from the last session, as he had to catch a train.)

At lunch Peter Singer had asked bunny_hugger if she was aware of this peculiar Kant quote he'd recently become aware of. bunny_hugger didn't remember it offhand. At a coffee break he caught up with her, with an exact copy of what Kant had written, albeit in German, which bunny_hugger admitted she couldn't read well. He tried to translate along and it was some odd thing about shame and murder and we couldn't quite make sense of what the context was. Singer invited bunny_hugger to send him any thoughts she had after she had the chance to look it up and learn about the context. (It turns out to have been modestly but well-debated, as one of those small but confusing things Kant had written. We don't know where Singer might have encountered it. Possibly the ``Crazypants Kant Quote Of The Day'' blog, which should exist if it doesn't. Not that he's generally crazypants, but that Kant says a lot of things that sound weird out of context, and the context is 620 densely-written pages of compulsively argued Prussian.)

So between the previous night and this bunny_hugger earned something like 175 points of prestige for her career, what with all that face time and getting Peter Singer as her new thesis advisor. Possibly 225 if her assignment turns out well.

Trivia: After the Great Fire of 1871 destroyed the Chicago National Association baseball team's park, the team wore ``uniforms'' scavenged from other teams. Source: A Game Of Inches: The Story Behind The Innovations That Shaped Baseball, Peter Morris.

Currently Reading: ... The Heavens And The Earth: A Political History of the Space Age, Walter A McDougall.

PS: A Summer 2015 Mathematics A To Z: n-tuple, continuing my Summer 2015 Mathematical A-To-Z, and my third post since the last roundup.