Stuffed seagulls and discrete geometry

Quite apart from the whole winning an award thing, yesterday was really interesting.  For a start, I got to go and visit (and even better, take some photographs of) the Canterbury Cultural Collections Recovery Centre.  The CCCRC is an amazing place – it’s a giant climate-controlled hangar that stores all the material from the various museums and other collections around Canterbury whose buildings were damaged in the earthquakes.  Everything that could be rescued from the damaged buildings was collected up and taken to the hangar for safe storage until new homes can be found for the collections.  There are side rooms where staff and volunteers from the various organisations can come and do cataloguing and restoration work, but mostly it’s just a huge room full of stuff.  There’s everything from paintings to mannequins to furniture to stuffed seagulls to a ship’s cannon.  And it doesn’t just come from public collections like the Lyttelton Museum but also from the private collections of organisations like St Johns Ambulance and various sports clubs.  The CCCRC provides space for them all.  Everything is of course organised and labelled, but because it’s all gathered into close proximity there’s all sorts of stuff mixed seemingly randomly together on the shelves – it feels a bit like one of those old Victorian museums where the only curating guideline was ‘things the collector found interesting’.
An incredible place, and one that most people don’t know exists, and that probably most people never even realised needed to exist – after all, you hear about these earthquake-damaged museums being demolished, and that they managed to recover x number of artefacts before demolition, but did you ever wonder where they took everything once they did recover it? (I know I never thought about it!)  It’s great to know that all those treasures are being kept safe, so that one day they can be returned to their respective museums and enjoyed again.
(The photos are all on my computer at work, so I can’t post any now, but I’ll try and remember to upload a few tomorrow).

Then last night I went to a Royal Society lecture being given by a mathematician from VUW.  It was a really interesting lecture – he was talking about the way geometry changes when it is based on a finite discrete mathematical system like modulo numbers (the “clock arithmetic” you might remember from primary school) rather than the “natural” real number system we are used to.  I loved his explanation of why this kind of mathematics is important to study: he said it is quite useful for various computing applications, but what’s really important, and the real reason why mathematicians study it, is that it’s really cool and beautiful 🙂
And really, what better reason than that is there to study anything?

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