Sunday, 19 February 2012

Versatile Virtuosity

The special issue of Dynamical Systems, and International Journal in memory of Jaroslav Stark is published next month. It is always sad to think that Jaroslav has gone, but writing the editorial reminded me that Jaroslav was an amazingly versatile mathematician. In his early career his interests spanned from pure mathematics to engineering via rigorous computer proofs and he went on to  become an important voice in Systems Biology. He also published on statistics and data interpretation.

This versatility reminds me of another of my heroes. The other day I came across Boris Vian on youtube. Vian was an engineer (he is credited with the design of the rubber wheels in the Paris Metro, which ensure a smooth and relatively quiet journey) but he is better known as a writer and one of the people responsible for bringing jazz to France (he died in 1959). His books were required reading for arty  French adolescents when I was young (I'm less keen on the best known J'irai cracher sur vos tombes, but L'herbe rouge, L'Ecume des jours and L'Arrache-coeur are amazing). I wonder whether he is still read.

I had not realized that Vian wrote music too. His anti-war song, Le Deserteur is wonderful; a very simple but powerful song written as a letter to the President on having received his military papers to leave for the war `by Wednesday evening'.  Another example of versatile vituosity.

I suppose both Stark and Vian show that extraordinary people are often extraordinary in a variety of ways. The rest of us just get on with what we do.

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