Some reminiscences and highlights of the Bernoulli meeting in Uppsala, August 13 –18, 1990

Strictly speaking, the complete heading should be Some reminiscences and highlights of “The 2nd World Congress of the Bernoulli Society for Mathematical Statistics and Probability and the 53rd Annal Meeting of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics” .

Anyway, it all began in 1986 in Tasjkent during the First Bernoulli meeting, when Georg Lindgren approached me while I was having breakfast at Hotel Uzbekistan and asked me how I felt about having Sweden, maybe even Uppsala, arrange the second Bernoulli meeting in 1990.

It soon became clear that Uppsala was the place for this event. One reason was that we were the only ones with an aula seating more than 1500 persons; Tasjkent had around 1100 participants and we had to be prepared for a similar number.

We soon formed a formal organizing committee with a nucleus consisting of Peter Jagers, Göteborg (chairman), Georg Lindgren, Lund (vice chairman), Allan Gut, Uppsala (secretary and main local organizer), and Lars Holst, Uppsala, later Stockholm (executive member). I think none of us was quite aware of the combination of work and fun that we had ahead of us.

Some immediate practicalities that had to be taken care of were to engage a conference bureau that would be the main responsible for some of the administrative nonmathematical tasks, and to fix a convenient time period in order to make reservations for the conference venue and for hotel rooms; after all if maybe 1000 persons would come here there must be a bed available for everyone. I also contacted Orphei Drangar ( ), one of the most famous and successful male-voice chairs in the world, for the traditional concert. We also booked the Linnæus garden for a welcome reception and the Uppsala castle for the banquet.

Next in line was the forming of a programme committee with representatives from the various areas of probability and statistics, as well as from the various parts of the world, and then to try to find the most important, hot, or otherwise attractive topics for sessions, and then to find chairmen who were willing to organize them. We also had to start worrying about a budget and to think about organizations who were willing to support the meeting financially.

Another idea that came up, partly in order to attract people from overseas, was to make it a joint meeting with the IMS. And, indeed, the meeting turned out as The 2nd World Congress of the Bernoulli Society for Mathematical Statistics and Probability and the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and was held in Uppsala, Sweden, August 13 – 18, 1990.

At this point it might be interesting to recall the state of the art and the world. We are now back in 1987/1988. At that time there was still an iron curtain running through Europe, and computers and email was not commonplace. A letter from Uppsala to Moscow could take 2 months, in spite of the fact that an aeroplane reaches Moscow from here in 2 hours; it should also be mentioned that a letter to the US needed a week or two (although the plane only requires 6-8 hours). And sometimes letters did not arrive at all. One example was a letter of invitation that we sent twice, in vain, to Moscow. Finally we were told that someone else who was now in California would be on the east coast in about two weeks time, so we sent the letter to the east coast with the hope that it would arrive in time to be carried back to the Soviet Union in order to be handed over in person. Needless to say, letters of invitation were vital for visa purposes.

Touching upon these problems we must also remember that money from eastern Europe was not convertible, so in order to have people from there coming to Uppsala it was important to exploit the exchanges that existed between the academies of sciences in Sweden and other countries as well as exchanges between universities, such as Uppsala and Vilnius, Uppsala and Prague, Uppsala and Bucharest, and so on.

In the Fall of 1988 we sent out a preliminary announcement – via ordinary mail to a large number of researchers around the world, followed by Bulletin 1 in the spring of 1989 where it, i.a., was stated that those who preregister will get subsequent information. Also by “snail mail”.

As time went on we received the abstracts, all in all about 550 of them. Once again we must recall “the old days”. This was well before template times. Abstracts arrived in various shapes; typed, hand written, on papers of different sizes, and so on. I recall one day I was lying with my son on the living room floor with the abstracts spread out around the room in order to arrange them in alphabetical order. Then the problem came of reshaping them into an abstract booklet. For this endeavour we had tremendous help from G.P.H. Styan in Montreal who (re)typed all of them and then faxed them to me for proofreading after which I faxed them to him with corrections made after which ... But we succeeded. The abstract booklet also contained lists of speakers and sessions and so on in various orders, something that in those days was much harder to create than it is today.

I guess it is by now clear that many letters to many persons were written, and that today this would be taken care of with one single email to “undisclosed recipients”. This should not be interpreted as hidden complaints, rather as a message describing some of the changes we have experienced over the last 20 years. I would, however, at the same time stress that it was great fun and exciting to be in touch with our research community all over the planet.

A most dramatic event occurred one month prior to the meeting. On July 16 we, the four of us, were going by car downtown when a definite smell of fire struck our nostrils. I said, jokingly, “that’s just the conference bureau burning down with all our abstracts”. And, indeed, it was! Upon our arrival there we found the fire brigade in full action. Since (only) the upper floor of the house was on fire I asked for, and got, permission to enter the ground floor in order to save the paper bags with the original abstracts that, as I was told, were put underneath a certain table. As I entered I heard a telephone ringing. In the Kafka like atmosphere I felt like answering “the house is on fire, we cannot take your call right now, please call back later”. Anyway, I found the abstracts and brought them out into safety.

The talks were of the usual format with a mixture of invited and contributed papers. One invention was that we created three very special named lectures: An opening Bernoulli lecture, which was delivered by Yakov G. Sinai, a closing Kolmogorov lecture, delivered by David G. Kendall, and between those a Cramér lecture by Søren Johansen. Subsequent meetings have kept those lectures and at times added others.

The traditional concert was held on Monday evening. The above mentioned male-voice choir Orphei Drangar, all dressed in tails (the penguin outfit), entertained for about one hour with a mixed programme. This was of course a particular joy for yours truly, being an active member of the choir at that time. I know that this surprised some conference participants, because later I was approached by a few who were convinced that I was standing there faking as a kind of joke.

In addition to some guided tours for accompanying persons (and maybe also for participants who skipped talks), Wednesday afternoon was devoted to the traditional excursion. One alternative was to visit Stockholm which is reachable in less than one hour by train, one was a round trip – one way by boat and one way by bus – to the 17th century baroque palace “Skoklosters slott” ( default.asp?id=4620 ), and one was a tour to some Wallonian ironwork settings north of Uppsala.

The Thursday conference banquet was held in the big hall at the Uppsala castle. In fact, since we were 750 > 600 participants we had to split the festivities into two banquets. The main problem(?) with this was that I had to enjoy the gravad lax (salmon), the reindeer and the good wines on two consecutive evenings.

There was one rather important thing that we could not arrange or prepare for – the weather. August in Sweden can be lovely but also terrible. We were extremely lucky in this respect. Participants could visit outdoor restaurants in the evenings, and the excursions could take place without additional clothing or umbrellas.

To summarize, although the first World Congress was most successfully held in Tasjkent, I think we all (in particular the four of us) felt that the Uppsala meeting was the beginning of a new era in stochastics. One very successful ingredient was the jointness with the IMS, which has broadened the scope of the meeting, well, for the meetings, I guess, it goes both ways. It was also amusing to observe how several formulations from the Bulletins that we had sent out reappeared in the bulletins of subsequent meetings.

A local additional benefit was that the conference, and even more so the organizing of it, brought probability and statistics in Sweden together in the sense that we got to know each other more closely and, somehow, almost developed into a large family, not just into a professional community.

So, all in all, it is a lot of work to organize such a meeting, but it is extremely rewarding, not only personally, but also scientifically, in that Uppsala and Sweden is not just some unknown place near or even at the arctic circle. Rather, it is now known world-wide that some high quality research is going on here. And for many years I was reminded at meetings, “Oh Uppsala, such a great meeting”; although people mostly remember the concert, the banquet, the excursion, and the pleasant weather.

So to all of you I wish to say: Don’t hesitate to host a future meeting should you be asked to do so!

Allan Gut, Uppsala

© Bernoulli Society