Thursday, June 07, 2007

The mss building and it's mathematical community.


I've been meaning to write this post yesterday, actually this morning 2am, but I haven't. The first reason being that although I was awake at that time, my brain wasn't functioning. Well it was functioning much less than it is normally known to do! Whether it's working now, well I guess time will tell. The second reason being that thinking about my(!) building is making me feel very depressed indeed. You'd probably find if ridiculous and funny, but indeed I am typing this with a very heavy heart.

This post is going to be slightly long, namely because it's going to have pictures and other media. I intended on having lots of pictures actually, but given the occasion I guess I'm entitled to this. Click on the pictures if you want to seem them properly or bigger!

First to some history, and a brief introduction for those who join me now. 'mss' stands for the Maths and Social Sciences building, and it's the building on the left (more pictures to follow). Floors m-q house half of the maths department at the University of Manchester. As was discussed in a conversation with someone else, them being the top floors of the building is saying something in itself! Do I have to write it down? I'd rather not, in case I risk offending the people occupying the floors below the maths ones! (than, other departments, better, Maths, on top, because. here's some random words which you can use to form a sentence if you so desire! :D)

My first ever venture into this building was when I had to meet my personal tutor in the first week of university. Thankfully I had already met my personal tutor during registration (he'd asked me whether I had any questions and I'd replied none yet!), so I knew who he was. I think it was a Friday, and well initially I had no ideas were the lifts were. I had been running late and had decided to dash up the stairs. (Don't worry I was innocent then, and didn't know what I was getting myself into.) However, thankfully someone else happened to be passing by and following them allowed me to locate the lifts. Having located the place of our meeting, and after arguing with someone else that they should take the chair, we all assembled in our PT's office. Eight of us i.e. my supervision class. It was pleasant enough, and my supervision class seemed friendly (always a positive thing). That was my first ever visit to my home. Little did I know that there would be a last time.

The question which is being screamed at me is why do I persist with writing 'mss' when it 'should be' MSS. Everyone else says 'em es es' but I say 'muh sa sa' building. Why? Well you see there's no real special reason for this. (That's a matter of opinion!) The building goes up to q floor, and well whenever we (read me!) were going up we(I) used to erm sing the alphabet. But obviously not A, B, C... but a b c d e....! We also managed to learn some of the alphabet backwards, whilst waiting for the lift to come down. The reason for the persistence in me 'supposedly' being childish and calling it mss, is because in my plans for mathematical \sout{domination} living(?) everyone will one day be saying 'mss'. The Tweenies laughed at my claim, however unsurprisingly, a year on, they can't say anything but 'the mss building'. :D Seeing the reaction/confusion on peoples faces when I say 'the mss building' is also amusing!

Alas, my plan to see whether everyone will one day be saying mss building cannot be completed. Moving on, this building really did become somewhat of a home to me. I have a reason for this.

I have previously commented about the 'lack' of mathematical culture present at undergraduate level, and I guess you could call that lack of mathematical community. Now let's disregard the undergrads for a while. The mss building is vibrating with mathematical culture and activity, that it's hard for one not to be affected by it. Seriously, you can't walk through the corridors without smelling the maths! However, apart from the undergraduate supervisions, I'd say that this community is full of lecturers and post graduates. (lucky people indeed). You see as a bystander and observer, I've experienced the 'want' to belong in that community. It's sad, but it's not what I see, but it's what my imagination works on that has been the key to my observations. Post grad students and a lecturer in an office. The post grad students have books on their knees, faces creased in thought. Maths discussions are happening everywhere. You see lecturers talking to each other (duh), but you want to know what maths they're talking about; post grads running from floor to floor to see whether the photocopier is available! (Btw I have no idea what is written on that board and who wrote it-I just thought it looked cool! and that's o-floor corridor).

Undoubtedly, this is probably the reason why I felt at home there. I had never really understood why before, and it is only yesterday that I realised this. I obviously had to go to the mss building yesterday (Wed), even though I had no business there. (Well I did, but not formal business). It's going to be a task and a half to get some mathematical community feeling for undergraduates, however I'm somehow determined to do it. I wanted to so badly be part of the maths community in the mss building- so bad it hurt. I want to be sat there, (discouraging the drinking of coffee!) and talking about maths. Obviously that is impossible. I'm only seven and still a baby in terms of my maths, however there's no denying that when I used to go to that building the feeling of belonging to that community existed. Some lecturers haven't even taught me, but I've seen some of there homepages, and so I sometimes feel like I know them. I smile at them or nod at them. Some probably don't know what to do, but other smile back. Is it bad that one of my best friends is actually an adult who works?!!

I guess I'm just weird and am probably the only person who sees this mathematical community present in the mss building. Trust me it's there. Thinking about it now makes me more depressed. You see the Tweenies have never really understood why I love this building so much. I talk to some lecturers (randomly at times) and Milo either pulls me back or they sometimes laugh at me (don't know in what way though!). They don't understand why I talk to lecturers- not just about maths. Once upon a time I was in the lift with my PT and another lecturer. We had a conversation. Some time later Milo, this other lecturer and myself were in the lift. I initiated a conversation with the lecturer this time, and we ended up talking about Dijkstra's algorithm (you've got to love it). I've done this on numerous occasions, but only when the opportunity arises. (1 times out of 10 that is!) But the thing is that I always want to talk to them. Always. Obviously I can't expect that from the lecturers, but one thing I really like about my personal tutor, is that on occasions that I do bump into him, he always enquires as to how things are going etc. (And passes on useful tips and hints). Obviously he knows me better, but I like talking to people about maths (and my interest for it) without holding back and being guarded.

Now a birds eye view if I may. There are three islands in the University of Manchester's maths department. The Lecturers island- call it Rivendell,. (:D) The Postgraduates island (erm somewhere near Rivendell.. egm need some help here!), and the Undergraduates island which has definitely got to be the Shire with qualities of Mordor. Now for those of you not familiar with The Lord of the Rings, Rivendell is where the elves live. They're immortal and basically cool (have cool ears as well !). The Shire is where the hobbits live- the smallest country in the world ever. The adult hobbit will be the same size as an 8 year old child. By Mordor I mean the place is dark, and you can't go out after dark etc. So that's my bird eye view of things.

However from this view I also see a bridge. A bridge from the post grad island to the lecturers island. This bridge is never empty. Activity is always apparent. This bridge is also a special bridge. The journey from one island to the other may seem never ending, however this bridge has a special kind of lift/escalator thing (use your imagination!) through which one can go to the other end in a second. The condition of this bridge is immaculate. Sparkling.

No such bridge exists from the undergraduate island. Not to the post grad one or the lecturers one. Actually wait, I see something when I zoom in. A 'has been' bridge is standing. I'm actually shocked that it hasn't collapsed. This bridge has no lift or anything special. Do you remember the story of the three goats crossing the bridge, and they were stopped by the troll? Well trolls are everywhere to be seen below the bridge. Dare I say that they look like undergraduate students, amongst other people. I'm confused why has no one bothered to repair these bridges? What if I want to cross? Will I make it across in one piece?

So there's how I feel about the mathematical community present in Manchester and the mss building. Possibly slightly exaggerated (the trolls!) but why is it so hard to repair the bridges? Is it because the lecturers and postgrads want to have nothing to do with us until after we graduate? I know that's not the case, for I have spoken to and met many great lecturers who don't give this impression. They (hopefully) don't mind me bugging them with maths questions or talking about football and things in general. I mean that's the impression I get anyway.* Maybe the lecturers and postgrads only care enough about those students who do manage to cross the bridge, and always find time to cross it? I believe that's fair enough and it should be that way. This is university for Pete's sake, we're old enough to cross this bridge. (BTW I hope I didn't offend any lecturers by my comments). (room 0-11 where the board was)

Now we've identified the problem. The problem is the undergraduate students. I will generalize on this instant, so please bare in mind that not everyone is like this. The bridge can be repaired by these students, but they don't want it repaired. You see there's a big poster in the streets of the island of Undergrads (island 3!), which has certain killing grounds mapped out. Every night, on the streets, all you see are undergrad students doing their business. There are other various posters but I can't find the heart to describe them. Conversations with Jake, have made me realise that this is not only a situation present in Manchester, however in other institutions. You see people care coming to his undergrad maths island for the night time 'rituals' amongst other things.

I don't care about this- but why do they persist in NOT repairing the bridge? Can one man take up the task of trying to fix this bridge? I want it fixed, I definitely do. I can't really explain it, but I really do enjoy talking about maths at times-even though I don't understand bits of it. I saw a person on the train and he was doing maths questions. I didn't get a chance to talk to him, but I was happy! You see many of these undergrads are brilliant mathematicians. I'm in awe of them at times, but why do think find it weird that those less able than themselves 'like like' maths? Once again this is a circular argument, but why do they force those who do have a passion for maths to hide?* I mentioned that I sometimes go to my lecturers at the end. However, I always wait for the lecture theatre to clear out first. I know this is a weakness on my part, but you see funnily enough whenever I ask a lecturer a question to help me understand something, whatever they say always makes more sense than anything else. It's quite ridiculous in the way, I pack my things and then wait. I sometimes hope that the lecturer doesn't quickly leave! (I can't help it) Although I do wonder how many other students, are like this.

There are many reasons why possibly nowadays group of undergraduate students have no regard for education. This post is not about that. Am I basically looking to create a community where I won't feel weird? I guess it's my student council nature that makes me believe that something can be done to repair that bridge, and it is with that belief that I shall continue. One could argue that PASS sessions exist and isn't that the mathematical community for the undergrads? Alas, I cannot comment on that since I didn't actively participate in the sessions, but next year will be different. However from what I've been told, I have reason to believe otherwise.

Back to the mss building. So a great maths community exists, and I also happen to have an office(!) in this great place. Not your normal type of offices of course, but it does its job! OK fine I confess that's the computer room - n13, where I initially set up base. Naturally when playing games like Red Alert, you build one base, and then when you're doing ok you expand, which is what I've been doing! You see there are rooms in this building where one can sit and do maths without having to worry about being 'seen' by other undergrads. The reading and common room are on p floor, however sometimes they remain locked, and well as you can expect they do tend to have students there! I wouldn't say I'm afraid of other students, but most times when I'm working I have to be in the 'zone', which tends to have only me in it. So obviously initially I'd go to my first office (ahem!) and use the computers there, if I needed to do work and my office grew 'loud' I'd head to p floor. If that was locked then o11 was the next location, and if that had a class running them I'd head down to m-floor which has a small computer room and classroom at the end of the corridor. Sweet. Thankfully I always had somewhere to be!

Walking from one location to another obviously meant I bumped into lecturers etc. and trust me I'm sure one of them did look at me suspiciously! (I did tend to mutter under my breath if the common/reading rooms were locked you see, and did a lot of jumping on the spot in frustration!) No reason not to, but the funny thing was that we always went towards the same computer in n13! You're probably bored of reading about my experiences in this building, but indeed you have to forgive me since I can't help it. I've been writing this post over the course of 2 days, since being kicked out of my own room has made life difficult indeed! (So that explains the length and disjointness of this post). (pict of the reading room).

We obviously can't forget the stairs of this building! The ones I claim to have walked up on numerous occasions. Well you see on Wednesday when I went to the mss building I went go gather proofs and erm ... take some pictures etc! It's quite embarrassing, because I was going to take a picture but heard someone walk down the stairs. It was too late the camera flashed and that person froze. I froze. It had to be a lecturer. I quickly called for the lift and waited (you see this person hadn't moved!) The lift came, and I ran into it, but I had wanted to take a picture of the board on the left. So in the lift I pressed the button for it to remain open, hoping that this person would quickly cross over. That didn't happen and yes, having pressed the button three times the weird look was indeed asked for. I should have just gone down one floor and back up again! So apologies to any lecturers or people who say me skulking about the maths floors trying to take photos without being seen! (On M floor this woman even say 'hi' to me in a suspicious way! I just ran for it before she called security. :D). I hope they don' discard that board since it's plain great. I didn't manage to get the whole of it (well I did in another photo but it didn't come out to great, but the picture on the bottom right hand coner will be at the end of this post. It's my favorite. :D )

So the proof of my stair walking. OK fine, I confess to having made a video. The quality is pretty rubbish, since it's been made by me and walking up them stairs is painful! You can either download it here (5mb) and then delete it, since it's not exactly an oscar winning movie, but thats me walking to q floor and then down some maths corridors. It was taken on a phone, and it was later on that I realised that I could pause recording and then start again. So it's a duh video, but it's for my memories. (You can skip to the end if you want, that's of the maths floors). Other smaller vidoes of the mss building can be found here(1mb) and here (2mb). (once again need downloading, but they're not that big files. They're of the maths floors and not made very well).

EDIT: If you don't want to download them, and are still curious to see how bad they are(!) then let me know and I'll look for a suitable alternative. You see if I upload them to youtube etc they get stretched (I made them 210x170 or something like that since the phone has a memory card) and make them look worse than they already are! (I'm not particularly good in this field).

Yes I took many more pictures as well, but it was indeed difficult trying to navigate myself without being seen! (some pictures have been taken before using camera phones so they're not really great). I didn't walk through o-floor and m-floor, since on o-floor some girls were sat in the corridor, probably waiting to see their tutors, and well on m-floor that woman was there (who'd said hi!).

I guess we've deduced that I really like this building, and although some lecturers don't seem to agree with me, (supposedly it can get 'wet' on rainy days!), I'm sure that they're going to miss it. Now obviously there is a reason for this post, and the reason is that they're closing this beauty of a building down. That's the issue here. That's whats upsetting me. It's inevitable, but my home is being destroyed!! I have been enquiring as to what's going to happen to this building for a while now, and no one seems to know. The only thing I do know is that its probably going to be sold and I'll never be allowed in it again. Hence, on my last ever visit I had to take pictures etc! I have offered to purchase it and will make weekly payments of a pound for the rest of my life, (might increase dependent on my position in the future!) but that seems reasonable enough right? (right!!)

OK, fine maybe that's me being stupid (again). The Maths department at Manchester is going to have a sparkling new building. Believe it or not I have nothing against this building, nothing whatsoever, but I can't help but not feel excited about it. It looks great and the inside is going to be neat as well, but come on, from the mss building and the new yet to be name building, which would you prefer? (You're not allowed to say the new one!) I'm not looking forward to the move, since although I have begged and protested, I don't think I'll have an office in this building. :D Also I don't know-but from what I've been told about this building, I think I'll be spotted more times than not talking to lecturers etc. You see not many maths students 'hanged about' in the mss building, however in this new one they're all going to be there. That scares me! I also prefer the UMIST campus- it's great and bits of it, once again, remind me of the Lord of The Rings! (The stairs where the orcs walked down at the end of the first movie are there!) That aside, I'm not negative about the new building, just sat that the mss building will be closed forever. Next year is going to pretty different since we're not going to have any lectures in the renold building. :( (Pictures of the new building will be posting when we return).

Ok, I'll shut up now. It's taken me a while to write this post, and I don't want to stop, but I must. How I feel now:

Hmm, will edit later since I'm sure I've forgotten about something! (believe it or not!)


egm said...

You love that building! As for the Postgrad island, how about Bree?

We had a building at the university I went to that had to be demolished to make way for a new one, and lots of people were sad to see it go. It had been around for close to 40 years, and the department it housed felt bad about it being razed. They seem to have adjusted well to the new place.

I say keep up talking to lecturers like you do. The more they know you, the easier it is to get letters of recommendation from them should you ever need any in future. It's better to go to one of them and ask for it and they instantly know what to write about you, rather than to one you never interacted with and who finds it difficult to say anything about you.

Jake said...

Is it bad that one of my best friends is actually an adult who works?!!

Well, I used to be one of those I guess (adult who works) so it can't be that bad ;)

btw...I can barely see the blackboard but it looks like something group theoretical - I saw a Z(G) which I am assuming refers to the centre of a group G

beans said...


Yep, Bree sounds about right! (It's been a while since I've watched the movie or read the book you see.)

And yep I love that building- it has a certain vibe/aura to it, and well it really does feel like being at home! (I've probably spent most of my time of my first year there!)

The weird thing is that I've only 'known' the building for about a year (not even a full one at that!). I'm sure the new building will be great, but at this moment I don't want them to close the mss building! (did you get a brick or something of that building? :D If they're going to demolish the mss one, then I'm definitely going to be taking something with me!)

The future eh, sounds blimmin scary if I may say so- just because one has no idea what lies around the corner.(sorry just had a discussion with someone about the 'future'. :( ) You do have a fair point, and there are a few which I like to think I can talk to! (Well those who can put aside my weirdness that is!) I feel happy when I talk to my lecturers- or does the word postive sound better? (One must remind oneself that although one likes talking 'a lot' others have actual work to do and may be busy! :o )

beans said...


Lol- the key word is used to, but yes you're right! (my friend still works:D) It's just that there's nothing wrong with talking to people older than you- I mean they have different experiences and outlooks on life, and you can learn a lot. But this is seen as weird which is what I was commenting on. :D

(Trust me, once I was walking and talking to Prof. S, to the mss building after a lecture, and across the road I recognised a girl from the lectures who I knew. Her eyes really did pop open when she saw me! And that's not the only time that's happened- it happened when I was talking to Dr E as well!) It's not wonder that Milo either pulls me back, or slows down- they get affected by these stares, but they don't affect me as much anymore. I mean so what? (It's just in lectures where I have to wait!!)

Does clicking on that picture not make it clearer? You can find the whole blackboard:
Here and

Not done groups yet- should be doing them next year! :D

Jake said...

Does clicking on that picture not make it clearer? You can find the whole blackboard:
Here and

Ahh, I see. I am not entirely sure what it is saying but I am pretty sure it is something to do with finite group theory.

Jake said...

It's just that there's nothing wrong with talking to people older than you- I mean they have different experiences and outlooks on life, and you can learn a lot. But this is seen as weird which is what I was commenting on.

I don't think anyone thinks it is strange; most people become friendly with neighbours, co-workers, people who frequent the same places, people with similar interests i.e. not people neccesarily linked by being the same age. I don't think that people think that this is wierd; it is just the norm.

beans said...

Well I guess it's just the people I know then- or maybe it's just me! Seriously, I have met people who find it strange. I think there is a difference between being friendly and being friends. However, that being said, I know what you mean. When I talk to someone who has a similar interest to myself, age is the last thing which I consider. I mean what would the world be like if that was the case!

(Can I use the time as an excuse for any nonsense which I splutter!)

Graeme said...

It's not impossible to create undergraduate mathematics community, but I know from first-hand experience that it's difficult!

In our last year at Bath my flatmate and I ran about half a dozen undergrad lectures, with speakers from our own department initially, although I managed to get a talk on proof theory from someone in the CS department, and another by a lecturer from a nearby uni which even some staff turned up to!

Now that I'm a postgrad, I suspect there'd also be a few of those who'd be happy to give an undergrad-friendly talk: in some ways, it's more of a challenge to make the content accessible and engaging.

So you could always try asking around and see if you could get a series of informal lectures going. Look out in particular for staff or students involved in public understanding of mathematics schemes and so on, they'd at least have ideas who to speak to.

beans said...

Hi Graeme,

Thanks for the vote of confidence. :) The hardest part is moving from square one. The 'duh' thing is that we currently have holidays so I can't discuss this with the Tweenies. (I know phones and emails exist, but I'd rather see the recation on their faces- also I think they'd be shocked that it's the holidays and I'm already thinking of what I may do when we start!) I'm sure Fizz will be up for it, and maybe we can convince Milo and Bella. (Doing this in a group sounds much more fun!)

Did you have them going on regularly, or were they random i.e. did you sometimes feel the need to have one? :o I'm hoping that a few lecturers will help me here! I know that this is going slowly, but I'm soon going to email a few lecturers and hopefully gather some opinions before proceeding. I shouldn't get too excited, but I can't help letting my imagination go wild! :o

Once again thanks. :)