Peter Krautzberger on the web

Hanging out with Sam

Sam already wrote about the g+hangout that he hosted last Saturday and I wanted to jot down some of my own thoughts on the experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing and I’ve been looking for good imagery to describe it. I only came up with two, but maybe you can help me with that in the comments.

  • Reinhold Messner going on an small hike with a group of amateur friends.
  • A good go player playing a high-handicap game against a weaker opponent.

It is always a pleasure to join people to think about a problem, but I was surprised how much fun it was when I already knew I could solve the problem. This probably had something to do with the fact that I hadn’t thought about this particular topic since essentially my Vordiplom (after 2 years at university). This brings me to my first image. Just like a professional mountaineer on an amateur-level hike, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about being dangerously out of my depth (though I stumbled myself one or two times). However, this didn’t make me enjoy doing mathematics with the others any less than Messner would enjoy any hike in good company, being challenged every once in a while and taking in the majestic nature surrounding us.

Equally intriguing was the interaction with the other participants. A Go player will play a high handicap game against a weaker opponent not because she wants to show off her strength, but because it levels the playing field and makes it enjoyable for both sides. Sam did a wonderful job at facilitating the exploration as well as the condensation of ideas, much like placing handicap stones at just the right level. That way, all parties involved could enjoy the artistic process that is doing mathematics.


I would suggest this idea to anyone – join such an interaction, at least once in a while! It is also yet another great example of how the internet allows us to connect to people and activities that might not be as readily available locally. Finally, it’s another example of the great potential the net offers for researchers to engage with a community of people that have dabbled in mathematics at some point in their lives but now have few chances to interact with math, let alone professional mathematicians. We can help people to keep their interest in mathematics alive and kicking while having fun ourselves – if that’s not worth it, I don’t know what is.


  • sam, 2011/12/22 Glad you enjoyed it! For me the joy is not that you know you can solve the problem, but rather that you know you will solve some problem. It’s a little better if you’re not sure what the outcome will be exactly.
    • Becky!, 2011/12/24 Please tell me at least one moustache was involved.
      • Peter, 2011/12/24 Hehe… no, unfortunately no moustaches (or the current reindeer thing).
  • Micheal Pawliuk, 2012/01/10 I totally agree with you Peter; group problem solving is very satisfying. Your comments kind of remind me of the paradox of expertise: “The more you know about a subject area the harder it is for you to explain the basics”. So with that in mind the type of problems you and Sam were working on might actually be a challenging exercise. (Also, your link to Sam’s writeup is broken.)
    • Peter, 2012/01/10 Thanks, Mike. I fixed the link. As much as I agree that most specialists are unable to explain the basics of their field, I think this is not a sign of expertise but lack thereof. It’s much like playing the piano; if you cannot play a piece slowly then you cannot really play it (even though playing faster will hide your errors from most listeners). It was more like being a taxi driver visiting an unfamiliar city.