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Post details: Analytic Beer No. 100

Analytic Beer No. 100

At the beginning, you never know how things will turn out. And that is what makes life so enigmatic. Just look at a bunch of kids in a kindergarten. Can you tell who will end up on Wall Street trading junk bonds and who will join a freak show as a part time vinegar addict? Can you tell who will be the next Bill Gates and who will only be his personal chauffeur? Nope, you can't, and neither can anyone else. Future is complex beyond anyone's calculating might. Subject to a maze of myriad influences, it percolates forth in inscrutable ways.

Take the first settlers who escaped from the religious sauna of medieval England. When they arrived in this country, they had no idea they were laying foundations for a future superpower. And had they been foolish enough to make any claims to that effect, the Native Indians would have been rolling on the dirt floor laughing. But at the end - due circumstances not even imaginable at the time - the settlers had the last laugh. They prevailed and their new country eventually celebrated its 100th and then 200th birthday. And if all goes well, we'll be watching the quarter millennium fireworks in a couple of years.

When I studied Math in Prague, I was a member of a small theater group called "Lipany". Even rigorous scientists need entertainment every now and then. In 1986 when we came back from the military service (it was mandatory after college), we decided to have a group reunion in a cramped smoke filled pub in the Prague district of Nusle. Being mathematicians, it didn't take us long to pull out our notebooks and start crunching differential equations, estimating integral inequalities and doing all sorts of nasty things that mathematicians do when they think no one is watching.

We found the event so exhilarating that shortly afterward we sent an invitation to two more "Lipany" members to join us the next time. Since we had to give our tentative gathering some name, we invited them half-jokingly to the second "Analytic Beer seminar" organized by a "Union of Czechoslovak Mathematicians and Alcoholics", which was just a little word play on the name of the official mathematical association at the time. We also added a short advisory note stating that "teetotalers and abstainers are strongly encouraged to have their physical exam performed by a doctor prior to the occasion as they may be exposed to second hand beer vapor; in addition to it, and to be on the safe side, they may need to obtain a one-time drinking license issued by the Society for the Protection of Rare Animals."

The idea of interlacing beer mugs and coasters with sheets of paper scribbled over with chunks of improper integrals, Fourier series and symbols for Lipschitz continuous functions caught on and we had our third Analytic Beer in two weeks and then fourth and fifth and before we knew it, the Analytic Beer seminar had become integral part of our lives. The secret to unlocking the scientific potential of the seminar turned out to be finding that fine limit where we had had enough beer to escape the straitjacket of scientific orthodoxy, but not quite enough to cease recognizing the quickly blurring Greek letters and mathematical symbols.

When we dispersed all over the world, the frequency of our seminars notched down a bit, but we still met whenever we could. We put away our 70th Beer in 1997, 80th in 2001 and 90th in 2005. For the Analytic Beer No. 100, which was approaching fast, we wanted to do something special. This July, when it finally arrived, we rented a picturesque log cabin in Northern Bohemia and spent four days in nearly pristine nature biking, hiking, sampling local brews, dawdling around, calculating infinite sums and watching the World Cup which happened to coincide with our Guzzle & Puzzle Fest. The College of Mathematics and Physics of the Charles University in Prague, our Alma Mater, used to have an owl in its emblem, so it didn't come as a big surprise that our gathering was a resounding hoot - a four day romp in a parallel Universe - although it needs to be admitted that we never quite figured out what was the probability that Spain would hit three goalposts within three seconds in their quarterfinal match against Paraguay. I think we just ballparked it as incontestably astronomical.

Life is the ultimate mathematical riddle. Twenty five years ago, Czechoslovakia was immersed in communism from soup to nuts - people were allergic to TV that was allergic to any manifestation of freedom and everyone's Mom was going bananas from standing in a long line for bananas. Mathematics was one of the few oases which the stinky breath of Kremlin could not quite reach. As we were honing our computing skills in that dingy old pub in the middle of Prague during our first tentative seminar, we had absolutely no idea that one day we'd be celebrating Analytic Beer No. 100, let alone in a country that would be part of the European Union. But that's how life on this planet is - you never know how things will turn out. Especially after you've downed a few.

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