Digressions & Diatribes

by Kort E Patterson, Editor

AGA 2004 Report

This year's Intertel Annual General Assembly (AGA) was held in another place I'd never been before - Las Vegas, Nevada. I ventured to the fabled sin city with some trepidation, but managed to spend four days there without it costing me more money, karma, or self-respect than previous AGAs. Whether this result was more a reflection of my forbearance in Las Vegas, or excesses at other AGAs, is left to the imagination of the reader.

Slot machines seemed to be everywhere. They provided a convenient way to dispose of any excess money weighing down your pockets while at the airport, hotel, shopping center, or even grocery store. Or maybe the builders of Las Vegas just filled in the empty spaces between pre-existing clusters of slot machines with the sorts of beds, tables, store shelves, and airline gates found in other cities in order to make the tourists feel at home...

I visited several casinos for their restaurants or other attractions, but managed to resist the glittering enticements of the one-armed bandits and gaming tables. Some of our members reported pocketing some winnings, while others admitted to balancing the other side of the equation - fulfilling the statistical inevitability that ultimately the house is the only consistent winner.

Food was one of the better bets in Las Vegas. On Friday night, 18 Illians gathered at the Bellagio for what is probably the best buffet on the Strip. There were a seemingly endless variety of gourmet selections from beef Wellington and prime rib, to salmon, king crab legs and a sushi bar. Just sampling our way through the salads, or the various ethnic Chinese, Italian, and Japanese offerings would have taken several days. And then there were the desserts...

I did gamble $2.50 on whether the Las Vegas mass transit system would actually take me where I thought its route schedule said it would. I lost my bet - I think. Depending on your perspective, the prize or penalty for my wager was a two hour tour of the "less scenic" areas of Las Vegas. As a result of this unexpected educational experience, I can now confirm with some authority that not all Las Vegas residents are stunningly beautiful showgirls or muscular Chippendale dancers. Oh - and buses may be the only places in Las Vegas where they haven't yet installed slot machines.

While I managed to accurately calculate that my desire to maximize the retention of money in my wallet was incompatible with the range of odds offered by the various forms of gambling, I wasn't as successful at some other numerical challenges. According to what I thought my camera was indicating, in spite of diligent efforts on my part, it appeared that I'd only managed to take a couple hundred photos by the end of the AGA. When I got home and downloaded the contents of the flash card, I discovered that I'd taken nearly 500 photos for the AGA Picture CD. Of course, I've only had this camera for three years - which is obviously too short a time to develop a functional understanding of all its various buttons and displays. Maybe after a couple dozen more AGAs I'll actually know what I'm doing...

Another number that was hard to ignore was the temperature. I don't think anyone would disagree with my assessment that it was hot - 105F when I arrived. The weather report the next morning enthusiastically predicting "cooling temperatures" - with the high dropping all the way down to "only" 103F. I couldn't tell the difference, but maybe it's an acquired sensitivity.

In contrast, the daily high temperature in Portland, Oregon dropped nearly 20F from one day to the next just before I left (from over 90F down to nearly 70F). To be fair, while 105F would be lethal in Portland or Chicago, it was reasonably tolerable in Las Vegas - especially since we were only briefly exposed while moving between air conditioned hotels, cars, and destinations. The only place I spent any time that wasn't air conditioned was at an outdoor cactus exhibit. But even this exposure was tolerable as long as we stayed primarily in the shade.

Something happened between the preliminary planning and implementation of this AGA. When I arrived Wednesday afternoon, there was a conspicuous lack of the usual "constraining structure" of a schedule of events, lists of recommended local attractions, or even the challenge of having to select which food or drink to enjoy in the hospitality suite.

Lou Carter Keay graciously stepped into the breach and organized expeditions to stock the hospitality suite with drinks, ice, and munchies. Once the core of the AGA was established, the rest more or less spontaneously self-organized itself as it progressed. The hotel staff were very helpful and accommodating - as were the staff of pretty much every establishment I visited.

Just before leaving for Las Vegas I received an invitation to the Sensuous and Erotic Arts Expo being held at the Stardust Hotel. In theory I had nearly 4 days of free time to fill, and very much wanted to check out the expo. I almost managed to get there several times, but every time I was about to set off, I got distracted by interesting conversations or impromptu expeditions with fellow Illians. I find it interesting - and perhaps a bit disturbing - that I seem to prefer discussing trivia or exploring mountains and prickly plants with fellow Illians to the erotic pleasures of beautiful naked women.

We got to meet Chung David Lam, the recipient of our first scholarship honor award, on Saturday. I think the plan is to award each year's scholarship through the school system of the city in which our AGA will be held. In addition to the money award, we also gave Chung an honorary four year Intertel membership.

Our newest member hopes to be a research chemist, a professor or a high school teacher. Among his achievements are an exceptional grade point average of 4.7; 1st place in the National Spanish Exam; the High School UNR 2002 Physics Exam; Foreign Language Fair in 2003; Southern Nevada Krypto Competition in 2004 and 2nd place in 2002. In addition, he has awards in the 2002 Scholar Athlete, and several advanced math awards among others.

Arriving in this country as a young child with parents who spoke no English, Chung struggled with a new language through the first grades in school. Now, he comfortably manages his family's affairs, interpreting and speaking for them and balancing Chinese traditions with an American way of life. From having no knowledge of a language to winning many awards in his second language, English, and a third, Spanish, shows rare dedication.

We did enjoy a couple of presentations. Members of the Las Vegas Bonsai Society demonstrated the art of plant sculpting. As we watched, an assortment of very sharp tools and pieces of wire transformed a scruffy evergreen into the aesthetically pleasing form the artist had somehow known was hidden within. We actually only got to see how to start creating a Bonsai work of art. As a living sculpture, a Bonsai is always a work in progress as both the plant and the vision in the sculptor's mind interactively evolve over time.

Dr. Gert Mittering dazzled us with a sampling of the mental arithmetics that have earned him several Guinness World Records. Even more impressive was Gert's ability to explain how he accomplished a few of his easier mental feats to a room full of math challenged Illians.

I took notes while Gert explained how he calculated as quickly as he could write it down, the root of a 6 digit third power number provided by the audience. Alas, I wasn't able to capture on paper the humor, audience interaction, and personal presence that made Gert's "math lesson" so entertaining.

This process will return the root of any third power number from 1000 to 999999 (a number 4-6 digits long). The answer will be a two digit whole number, with each digit being solved independently. Conspicuously missing from this process is anything resembling the conventional math I was taught in school. In this example, we'll find the third root of 373248.

First we need to know two number sequences that will determine the right-hand digit of the answer. If the right-most digit of the original number is a 0,1,4,5,6, or 9, the right-hand digit of the answer will be the same. If the right-most digit of the original is a 2,3,7, or 8, swap 2<->8, 3<->7 for the right-hand digit of the answer. Since the right-most digit of our example is 8, the right-hand digit of the answer will be 2 (8->2).

To solve the left-hand digit of the answer, we need to know the third powers of all the single digit numbers between 1-9. 13=1, 23=8, 33=27, 43=64, 53=125, 63=216, 73=343, 83=512, 93=729. Gert suggested a variety of mnemonics to help remember these third powers. Most of us just wrote them down.

Discard the three right-most digits of the original number. (373248 becomes 373). The left-hand digit of the answer will be the largest single digit number whose third power is smaller than what's left of the original number. In our example the left-hand digit of the answer is 7 since 373 falls between the third powers of 7 and 8 (343 and 512 respectively). So the third root of 373248 is 72.

Our keynote speaker this year was Tamara Butler, editor of BMI (Black Insight Magazine - www.readbmi.com), and a Black History educational consultant. Author of the "Just Imagine..." series of children's books, as well her own newsletter, "Tween Time News", she has also written about the Tuskegee Airmen, which was the topic of her presentation after the Intertel banquet.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black fighter pilots in what was then the US Army Aircorp. Their primary mission was defending American bombers from enemy fighter attacks - a critical contribution to the war effort in which they were exceptionally successful. Not a single bomber escorted by the "Red Tails" was lost to enemy aircraft. Not surprisingly, once the dedication and capabilities of the "Red Tails" became known, bomber crews often specifically requested them as fighter escorts. The success of the Tuskegee Airmen in the air greatly facilitated the eventual integration of the US military on the ground.

Tamara was accompanied by Barbara Knighten, whose late husband Jay Bernard Knighten was honored by having the Las Vegas Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen named for him. Bernard retired as a Lt. Col., and later worked for the FAA. He was also a writer and entertainer, doing stand-up in many of the Las Vegas clubs. They were long time friends of Lou Keay.

Once again, the end of the AGA on Sunday came all too soon. Next year's AGA will be in Nashville, TN. I've never been to Nashville, but I'm expecting to have a good time - and to again vicariously experience from the perspective of those with a deep personal involvement, just a bit of what they find so fascinating about another area that is outside of my usual interests. Hope to see you at next year's AGA!

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