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2017/10/01 - How I Met Ron Graham
I was a lowly PhD student when I first met Ron Graham. It was at a conference, and there was something I wanted to show him. In my mind it was pretty much guaranteed that he would be interested, but he was (and still is!) extremely well know, extremely eminent, and extremely popular. As a result he is extremely busy, and somewhat besieged with people wanting a piece of his time. How could I possibly attract and hold his attention long enough to get him interested?
So I hatched a plan.
Clearly it worked, because I did meet him and he was interested, but exactly how well the plan had worked wasn't clear until we met again many years later. At that time I was visiting a friend who lived quite close to Murray Hill, so we "dropped in" on the off-chance he was there. Not only was he there, and not only did we get to spend some time with Ron, he recounted to my friend the story of how we had met! He remembered in detail the ploy I had used, and told the tale with some glee.
And has done so several times since - each time he introduces me to someone he tells the tale of how I had caught his attention, so not only did it work, it left a lasting impression. And now I'll tell it to you.
As I say, I was a lowly PhD student, and Ron was the opening plenary speaker at the conference. It was a pretty major conference, well attended, and the plenary was full. I knew that, unless steps were taken, when he finished Ron would be surrounded by people wanting to talk to him. One of the problems with being well-known in your field is that everyone wants to get you interested in their problem, and, of course, I would be just one among the throng.
My plan? I figured that the organisers would try to pre-empt this unseemly scrum by scheduling the conference announcements to follow immediately after Ron's talk. That would give him time to escape while the delegates were pinned in place to listen to the important information.
So, I thought, Ron would exit left, and escape. I laid my trap.
A few minutes before he finished I quietly slipped out the back and lay in wait in the foyer. There was really only one way out, and that was from the side door, across the foyer, and out the main doors. I waited, hope against hope that the plan would work. There was applause in the auditorium, but no one came out through the main doors.
And then suddenly there was Ron, right on time, striding across the foyer. I matched him step-for-step (not easy - he's quite tall and was in a hurry) and delivered the crucial opening line.
"Professor Graham" (briefest nod of acknowledgement) "I have something I think that will interest you, but you have no way of knowing that I'm not a crank. So give me just 2 minutes - if in those 2 minutes I haven't said something interesting, just walk away and I promise I won't follow you."
He stopped dead, looked at me, and said - "OK, go on."
So I did a three ball cascade and said "Call this type of throw a '3'", did a four ball fountain and said "Call this type of throw a '4', etc." and then defined a "1" as a "zip" - then said: "We can do 5551" and demonstrated.
Ron said: "Let's get a coffee," and we were off.
Which I'm unreasonably proud of.
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