Abhishek decided he wanted to go to WCNT 2003 also, so we went together. We took a Greyhound down to Monterey on Wednesday. That wouldn’t have been especially eventful had we not been discussing Putnam problems. After a few minutes of discussion, an elderly man who was sitting across the aisle from us asked us if we had a copy of the Putnam. He told us that he had been a Putnam winner in 1967. I quickly jotted down a few questions for him to work on.
After a while, we arrived in Monterey and took a bus down to Pacific Grove. Pacific Grove calls itself “Butterfly Town, USA.” I didn’t see any butterflies while I was there, but many of the hotels were called butterfly names, such as “Monarch Inn.” There were also various paintings of butterflies spread out over the city. Then we went to Asilomar (which was 10-15 minutes away from our hotel if one is walking) to see if we could figure out where the conference would be held. That turned out to be far more difficult than expected. We did manage to register at what we considered to be an exorbitant price. The organizer allowed us to get away with a mere $50 fee (each) rather than the $90 he should have charged each of us.
Talks began Thursday morning at 9. The first session was algebraic number theory. That session taught me that I need to learn some algebraic number theory. I didn’t understand any of the talks properly. Fortunately, the next two sessions were elementary number theory, so I was able to understand a fair number of the talks quite well. Then there was the problem session. People posed problems that they couldn’t solve, and other people tried to solve them. I was amazed that the first problem posed was actually sufficiently easy that it would have made a decent USAMO #1 or #2 question. The other problem proposals were hard though.
Friday’s first session was on modular forms. I didn’t understand anything. The second session on Friday was on miscellaneous number theory, and those talks were moderately understandable. Since it was a half-day, we left at noon and went to Monterey to find something to eat. Unfortunately, it started to rain within a minute of our getting out of the bus. Therefore, we quickly found a Subway and ate there. After that, we had to wait in the pouring rain for a while for a bus to take us back to Pacific Grove. For some reason, there are various signs in Pacific Grove recommending the conservation of water due to the draught. However, while I was there, it was raining quite a bit.
Saturday’s talks began with the analytic number theory session. I was of course looking forward to that the most even though I knew that analytic number theory is extremely tough and that I wouldn’t be able to understand much. One of the speakers told us that he thought he had disproven the Twin Prime Conjecture, but upon checking his work, he found an error. That would certainly have been a result worthy of worldwide attention. Before the penultimate analytic number theory talk, the announcer said that the two talks on the Riemann Hypothesis had been saved for the end of the session since no one would want to speak after someone had just proven the Riemann Hypothesis. Unfortunately, neither did prove it. One of those Riemann Hypothesis talks was by John Carey, a former UCSB student. Ryavec told me to talk to him, and I was going to talk to him, but then I realized that I didn’t have anything to say, so I didn’t. His talk was very interesting, and I actually understood a little bit of it. He showed that the Riemann Hypothesis is equivalent to showing that a certain infinite sum converges. The second session on Saturday was computational number theory, and those talks were moderately understandable. After that, there was a business meeting. We voted on whether there should be a prize for the best talks. We voted that there should. Then there was another problem session, mainly devoted to solving the problems posed on Thursday.
Abhishek didn’t listen to most of the talks and tried to solve olympiad problems instead. I thought that that was rather rude and that he should have come to listen, so eventually I took the olympiad problems away from him, thus encouraging him to listen. I think it worked.
This morning, we took a taxi to the Greyhound station and returned to San Jose. Now I am back at home again.
I suppose I learned from the talks that proofs are really hard. Most of the speakers only presented conjectures and had no idea how these conjectures should be proven. That should presumably be encouraging to me.