Categories and Conferences and Colloquia, oh my!

About two months ago I got word of a job opening at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST).  Their preferred start time did not match my schedule, unfortunately, but it sounds like my academic brother and good friend Blake Pollard got the position.  In the meantime, I went to Philadelphia for a couple of days at the beginning of September to give a presentation and to meet with some of the people I would be working with if the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) position gets finalized.  I haven’t heard back since then, aside from a new contact from Penn.

Late July through early September saw me doing quite a bit of travelling by air.  First from Los Angeles (LAX) to Toronto–Pearson (YYZ) and back, then LAX to Princess Juliana Airport (SXM) via Atlanta (ATL) and back, and, one week later, LAX to Philadelphia (PHL) and back.  While waiting to board my flight back from PHL, I looked at the monitors that showed the current weather.  I was taken aback a bit by the fact that where I was one week prior was now inside the eye of Hurricane Irma.  The amount of damage sustained by Princess Juliana Airport and the rest of Sint Maarten / Saint Martin is almost unreal.  Neighboring Anguilla got thrashed as well.

This semester my teaching load is quite light – 3 units, versus the ~10 units I was consistently getting last year.  It has been a mixed blessing.  While it is financially tighter when I get paid by the units I teach, it gives me a bit more time to work in earnest on job application materials and other writing projects.  My plan is also to use some of that time checking out what colloquia hosted by those places are open to the public.  I have already identified Harvey Mudd as a place where I can see myself applying, and where I can definitely attend multiple colloquia, both in mathematics and in physics.  I also noticed a postdoc opening at the Perimeter Institute about a month ago.  While I can’t visit there every week like I can with Harvey Mudd, I did enjoy the week I spent there three months ago.  I’m keeping it on my radar, though perhaps a bit wary of what weather the winter months might muster.

Next weekend, the sectional meeting for the AMS will take place at UCR.  My abstract for a contributed talk in the Applied Category Theory session was accepted, and I have been scheduled for 9:00 – 9:20 on Sunday morning, November 5.  I’m reworking the talk I gave at Penn in order to address a different kind of audience about roughly the same kinds of things, but in 20 minutes instead of an hour.  Hopefully it’ll come off as more polished as a result of the tinkering.

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HAiKQDM:MCfGTtTQCaCQM postmortem

Last week I attended a conference at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, titled “Hopf Algebras in Kitaev’s Quantum Double Models:  Mathematical Connections from Gauge Theory to Topological Quantum Computing and Categorical Quantum Mechanics”.  My flight from LAX (Los Angeles) to YYZ (Pearson-Toronto) was delayed due to a maintenance issue, leaving me sitting in the plane on the tarmac for about an hour and a half before takeoff, right close to midnight.  My flight to Oxford for the QPL conference (Quantum Physics and Logic) two years ago had a similarly long delay… Hmmmn.  Despite this conference being fairly small—40 people on the list of participants—there were several people present that I met at that QPL conference (Ross Duncan, Stefano Gogioso, and Pawel Sobocinski), and a couple more that I met while I was a grad student at Riverside (Tobias Fritz and Derek Wise).  It turns out Ross and Stefano are sharing an apartment on the floor above my room. Continue reading

We now interrupt your regularly scheduled radio silence…

It has been nearly two years since my last post here, and several things of note have occurred or are about to occur.  My Ph.D was conferred last December.  My dissertation, Categories in Control:  Applied PROPs, is available on the arXiv and via eScholarship.  In the meantime I have been teaching as adjunct faculty at Victor Valley College in the Mathematics and Physics departments, keeping an eye on conferences of interest and postdoc positions.

Since I last wrote, there are two new countries’ stamps on my passport, and in a few days I’ll finally be adding one from a country that shares a land border with the U.S.  Less cryptically, I will be spending next week in Canada, attending a conference on Hopf Algebras and other things in a title that is longer than this description at the Perimeter Institute.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank Tobias Fritz for bringing the conference to my attention and Daniel Gottesman for providing the Perimeter Institute invitation.  Saying the invitation covers practically all the expenses is putting it mildly.

I have been in courtship with a postdoc position since about the beginning of June with the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.  There is a close connection there with a group at Penn led by Daniel Koditschek.  I have been invited to give a talk and spend a couple of days at Penn in early September so we can get to know each other better, both personally and mathematically.

A little bit farther in the future, I am looking with interest at the upcoming AMS sectional meeting in November at UC Riverside and the upcoming Joint Math Meeting in January in San Diego.  I still need to submit an abstract for the Applied Category Theory session at the sectional meeting.  I plan to simply attend the JMM—it will be 14 years since the last time I went to a JMM, when it was last in Phoenix.  It will be nice to have a fresh look from a more mathematically mature perspective.

AMS talk 10/24/15

About two months ago I gave a talk at the AMS Fall Western Sectional Meeting.  While I could have safely rehashed my QPL talk, I decided to push forward instead.  That may or may not have been the best idea – the results were certainly less polished.  On the other hand, I was able to describe controllability and observability of a control system in terms of string diagrams.  This is something that was painfully missing from my QPL talk’s results in July.  Seeing the nontrivial constants in the string diagrams the quantum folk were using provided the key insight, and I wanted to capitalize on it as soon as possible.

The punchline of the AMS talk is that the duality between controllability and observability noticed by Kalman in the late 50s and early 60s can be expressed in terms of a PROP, which is a kind of symmetric monoidal category.  In particular, this PROP includes a subPROP of finite-dimensional vector spaces and linear relations, which is basically what Paweł Sobociński deals with here under the name of Interacting Hopf monoids.  Okay, so the actual punchline is that the duality Kalman noticed six and a half decades ago between controllability and observability? it’s simply time-reversed bizarro duality.

Bizarro is Sobociński’s term (seen in episode 7 of his blog), but I’m kind of partial to it.

QPL 2015

On July 17 I gave a talk at Oxford in the Quantum Physics and Logic 2015 conference.  It was recently released on the Oxford Quantum Group youtube channel.  There were a bunch of other really cool talks that week.  In my talk I refer to Pawel Sobocinski’s Graphical Linear Algebra tutorial on Monday and Tuesday, as well as Sean Tull’s talk on Categories of relations as models of quantum theory.  There are benefits to speaking near the end of the conference.

CSUSB colloquium

I’m giving a talk tomorrow afternoon at the CSUSB Mathematics department.  I will explain some of the stuff I’ve been working on, then shift gears to show how the general machinery can be applied to another mathematical landscape: knots.  Sticking purely with knots is a bit restrictive, so I almost immediately skip ahead to the open version of knots, i.e. tangles.  Luckily John Armstrong posted an article on arXiv in 2005, where he showed (among other very nice things) that tangle groups really are tangle invariants.

While I probably will not mention it tomorrow, another landscape that is being opened up (in the same sense that tangles open up knots) is Markov processes.  Blake Pollard is doing exciting work on this front, and the same general machinery I’ll be talking about should have some interesting things to say about Markov processes as well.

Associator

After more delays that I would like to admit, I finally got around to making this. Perhaps some explanation of what’s going on in the picture is in order. We begin with a category with (all) pushouts, starting with some objects and morphisms arranged as chained spans. A pushout is used to compose the two spans on the left. This gives a new span, L \rightarrow \Gamma'' \Gamma' \leftarrow J, which in turn can be composed with the span to its right via pushout. This is just one way that we can compose the chain of three spans. If we had built up from right to left instead of left to right, we would have \Gamma'' (\Gamma' \Gamma) at the top instead of (\Gamma'' \Gamma') \Gamma.

The associative property is really nice, so it would be good to show those two ways of composing spans are “the same” in some appropriate sense. Spoiler: that sense is “up to isomorphism.” Instead of directly finding them isomorphic to each other, it is easier to show each is isomorphic to some other thing – the colimit of the entire diagram we started with. This colimit will here be called an associator; it is something that both compositions of all three spans will be isomorphic to. I’m just going to sweep under the rug the question of whether that colimit will exist and just assume it does in this post.

So we’ve got the groundwork set, now we need to take advantage of some universal properties to give unique maps that make sub-diagrams commute. The first universal property taken advantage of is that of the first pushout. The associator has arrows going to it from \Gamma'' and \Gamma', so there will exist a unique morphism, \Gamma'' \Gamma' \rightarrow \Gamma'' \Gamma' \Gamma. such that everything commutes. Going up a step and using the arrow we just made, we can play the same game to get a unique morphism (\Gamma'' \Gamma') \Gamma \rightarrow \Gamma'' \Gamma' \Gamma that still makes everything commute.

To go in the reverse direction, we need morphisms from each of the Gammas to (\Gamma'' \Gamma') \Gamma. We already have one from \Gamma, and the other two can be built by composing morphisms. We can join two arrows together, tail to tip, to get a single arrow regardless of what category we are in. Now the universal property of the associator kicks in, giving a unique morphism \Gamma'' \Gamma' \Gamma \rightarrow (\Gamma'' \Gamma') \Gamma, but there’s a catch. We only know it makes some of the diagram commute. We have to put in a bit more effort to show the arrows involved in the pushouts will commute, too. The first step of this isn’t too bad — the three arrows that don’t point directly at \Gamma'' \Gamma' \Gamma will commute because the morphisms from \Gamma'' and \Gamma' to (\Gamma'' \Gamma') \Gamma commute with them by construction.

The universal pushout maps are a bit trickier, but since both legs of the pushouts commute with everything else, the universal maps will commute as well. Without the picture, that sentence might be a bit hard to understand. Look at the picture. They say those things are worth a thousand words. As parts of the diagram are shown to commute with the blue arrow on top, those part turn dark green. The arrows that already commute with everything get highlighted when they are used to show other arrows commute with everything. That should clarify what the picture is doing. Once everything commutes, the arrows turn black again, and we are left with unique maps in both directions at the top of the diagram that commute with each other. Long story short, this gives an isomorphism between the composition of spans by pushouts and the composition of spans “all at once” by associator. Watching the animation in a mirror gives the other way of composing spans by pushouts as isomorphic to this as well.

So this picture together with its mirror image shows (\Gamma'' \Gamma') \Gamma \simeq \Gamma'' (\Gamma' \Gamma), which is really the best we could possibly hope for when pushouts themselves are only unique up to isomorphism.