Between being department chair at Michigan State and the father of newborn twin boys Daniel and Justin Wang there isn’t a whole lot of time for other activities. Most of my time is devoted to those two responsibilities. I spend the remaining of my time juggling between professional interests and personal enrichment.

Professional Interest Activities

Daniel and Justin one month old
daniel justin 1 month

The little time I have left after administration and family is mostly devoted to research during the day and reading (books, articles and research papers) in the evening. My research interests are quite diverse, which include topics both in pure and applied mathematics such as tiling, fractal geometry, wavelets and frames, signal processing (image, audio and communication), data analysis using machine learning. Here are the links to my research publications and preprints.

A current research interest of mine is the mathematical analysis of arts in terms of stylometry, authentication, author attribution, and more. As it turns out mathematical analysis can serve as a powerful tool to complement connoisseurship in the study of visual art. A list of recent work on visual stylometry can be found among the references in our study of Bruegel drawings. This is a growing area of research. I’ll be organizing the Banff workshop Mathematics: Muse, Maker, and Measure of the Arts on visual art stylometry December 4-9, 2011, together with Ingrid Daubechies, Shannon Hughes, Bob Moody and Dan Rockmore.

One of my professional passions is talking to high school and undergraduate students about mathematics and trying to recruiting them into majoring in it. Before moving to Michigan State I was the coach for the Putnam Mathematical Competition team at Georgia Tech, and with some undergraduates I founded the Georgia Tech High School Mathematics Competition with over 300 students participating annually. While I still devote time to talking to students, coaching Putnam is unfortunately one of the activities I had to sacrifice as the department chair. Fortunately, the Putnam team at MSU is in very good hand with Dr. Ignacio Uriarte-Tuero as its coach. Ignacio and I are working on a problem book for the Putnam participants. Students interested in participating the Putnam can download my 100 Putnam Practice Problems and Another 100 Putnam Practice Problems.


Personal Enrichment Activities

Antelope Canyon, in Page, Arizona
antelope canyon

I have always had diverse interest and hobbies. Among my passionate are photography, poker, reading, films, humor, sports and good food --- in other words, just about everything. But more than anything, I enjoy good companies.

Since becoming the department chair at MSU just about all of them have either been chopped or scaled back with the exception of good food, the opportunities for which may have increased a little with many community obligations. Now with the twin boys more are on the chopping block.

Ever since I bought my first digital camera in 2001 (a Canon Powershot G1) I have become an enthusiast of photography. Travelling to conferences provides an excellent opportunity for taking a diverse range of photos. These photos leave me with lasting memories about the places I had visited. I remember vividly the excitement of Tibet or Banff each time I look at the photos taken there. Please visit my photo page to see some of my digital photos from various parts of the world. Unfortunately, I had drastically scaled back my regular photography as it is no longer convenient for us to travel. On the other hand, I have ample opportunities to sharpen my skill for photographing babies!

big dealOne hobby I really enjoy is playing poker, usually Texas Hold’em, although I’ll play Omaha or Stud occasionally. Growing up in China where the national pastime is Majiang (Mahjong) I was never much of a Mahjong player. Even at the advanced age of 85 and with hearing problems my mother is still by far the best Mahjong player in the family. I consider myself a decent poker player who is good enough to win playing with friends at a party, but raw enough to lose against people who know how to play. I play it mostly for fun: I enjoy the drama and the bantering of a good game. But even in small stake games it can be nerve racking, especially with the no-limit Hold’em. You need to have the nerve of the steel to win consistently in no-limit Hold’em. I find poker to be a good training for keeping composure as well as for being decisive and analytical, traits that are important for a mathematics department chair (there is no evidence that being a good department chair helps one's poker playing, though). Unfortunately poker is now almost entirely chopped from my regular activity list.

I became interested in Texas Hold'em and poker in general after I read the book "Big Deal" by Anthony Holden. I picked up the book at a bookstore in Atlanta, long before poker has reached its current stratosphere in popularity. The only reason I bought it was because it was on sale at a basement price. At the time I knew virtually nothing about poker, and thought Texas Hold Them was some kind of weirdo wrestling game in Waco. Not expecting much from the book, it turned out to be a delightful read. I have read many books on and about poker, and in my view it is a must-read for any poker enthusiast.

I like to read pretty much all kinds of books and articles. With limited free time I had to cut it back substantially. But I’ll pick up a book or an article to read whenever I get a breather from playing with the babies at home. I love good mysteries and thrillers, as well as many well written non fictions. I get the feeling that soon I’ll be reading a lot of children’s books. smiley face

Buckner after his fielding error
bill buckner

I’m a sports fan. I used to play a lot of soccer and volleyball. I had even been on some pretty good teams that won local tournaments. But with work and kids now I’m mostly a couch potato as far as exercising goes. Since Cambridge, Mass was my first stop in the US (where I had spent 6 years) I became a big fan of Boston sports teams, so much so that I thought I had developed some cardiac and digestive track problems after Bill Buckner's inexplicable Game 6 fielding error that highlighted the collosal collapse of the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. Interestingly, even though I had spent 18 years in Atlanta I was never able to develop any kind of attachment to the Hawks, the Falcons or the Thrashers (I do root for the Braves as well as the Red Sox). The professional sport I follow most is NFL, perhaps because in football winning isn’t determined by how much luxury tax a team can afford to pay, and a team’s consistent losing is entirely a result of its own inepitude (alas the Detroit Lions). Plus, good coaching and team plays are far more important in football than in other sports.

Two lunker catches in Destin, FL
too heavy

I’m a big fan of the New England Patriots. Yes, I for one agree with Bill Belichick’s infamous 4th down call against the Colts in 2009. While sports pundits had a field day pounding Belichick, I thought the call brought some fresh air to the game and showed why Belichick's unemotional approach to the game has made him one of the best coaches in professional sports (see also Freaknomics author Steven Levitt's blog and economist David Romer's paper). I don’t have much time to watch any sports today, even the sporting event that I eagerly anticipate: The World Cup.

All other hobbies of mine such as watching old movies and fishing are pretty much suspended. When I was in Atlanta I often went trout fishing with my colleague Fred Andrew in the Chatahoochee River. He always caught more than I did, so I asked him for his secret. He told me that it was really very simple: "to catch more trout you must have the intelligence of a trout." Perhaps that was my problem. I had more success on deep sea fishing trips down in Destin, FL. I caught those two amberjacks along with a basketfull of smaller fish during one of such trips in 2003. With numerous lakes Michigan is perhaps among the best places for fresh water fishing. But even though I really like fishing, I have not even taken out my fishing rod once since coming to Michigan. When my kids grow up I may need to pick up the activity again. Actually I'm already looking forward to days.

Of course things are changing so fast, and with more and more BS being dumped on a department chair and less and less resources to play with, it won't be long before I had to chop another hobby from my list activities. It is possible that I discover a new passion in life some day down the road that I quit everything else.


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(Last updated: June 7, 2010)