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Powell's Q&A

Ken Ross

Describe your latest project.
Oh, this is easy. The Mathematician at the Ballpark is almost certainly the last book I will ever write. I've been retired since 2000, and though I keep busy doing many things (even reviewing math books), no more book writing is on the horizon.

Also, I am in a fantasy baseball league, if that qualifies as a "project."

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
In 1998 my wife and I stayed at a small hotel in Istanbul which provided breakfasts. The hard-boiled eggs were from freshly laid eggs and the breads were delicious. The highlight was the best orange marmalade that we have ever encountered. It was made and delivered fresh every morning.

What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
At this age, breakfasts and, for my health of course, dark chocolate.

On a clear and cold day, do you typically get outside into the sunshine or stay inside where it's warm?
Unfortunately, I tend to stay inside where it's warm, because the cold does bother me and because I'm still a workaholic, although I'm officially retired. I've always been an armchair explorer, fascinated by the explorations to the North Pole and South Pole and those trying to find the Northwest Passage. But I need to be warm and I need a real bed every night. Roughing it to me is a motel room where the air conditioner is on the fritz.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
Willy Ley's Exotic Zoology, which was first copyrighted in 1941 when I was five years old. It was written by a rocket scientist who, as a kid, wanted to be an explorer. This book consists of several stories about people who searched for exotic creatures by following old myths. Sometimes they found these creatures, like the coelacanth in the depths of the ocean, but often as not they failed — no unicorns, no Loch Ness monster, etc. I still have the book, but it is surely badly outdated by now. The book still looks interesting, and is one of the few books I'd like to read again. But now it looks amazingly difficult to read.

Do you have any special relationships with young people?
I mentor two home-schooled nine-year-olds in mathematics. One is a smart little boy whose birthdate is the same as mine. The other is his best friend, a very smart little Chinese girl. I help them with basic mathematics, but we also get into some pretty sophisticated ideas.

At my church I have a "secret pal." He is eight years old and wants to be a professional baseball player when he grows up. We've been communicating all winter using pseudonyms, but we will meet in April.

What was your best subject in high school? Your worst?
My best subject was mathematics, geometry and trigonometry. This was a subject where hard work paid off and which most students did as little as possible; in short, this was opportunity to excel. Ultimately I became a math major in college, after dabbling in several other majors.

My worst subject was social studies, which meant local history where I went to school. This was in Utah, so those few of us who didn't already know a lot of Mormon history were at a big disadvantage. It didn't seem fair, and this was before I learned that "life isn't fair."

If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Born to Be a Facilitator: An Over-Achiever Who Grew Up to Be a Workaholic. spacer

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