While John & Michael are in Irsee doing some finite geometry, I’m in the South of France at a matroid theory gathering organized in the tiny village of La Vacquerie-et-Saint-Martin-de-Castries which is high up on the Larzac Plateau in the South of France.

This may seem an unlikely place for a conference, but it is where one of the eminence grises of matroid theory, Henry Crapo, lives. Henry is an amazing and eclectic personality who lives in a wonderful house large enough to double as a personal conference centre that he calls Les Moutons Matheux. As the village (approximately 135 inhabitants) has no real shops, Henry engaged a personal chef who prepared amazing meals entirely from local “bio” produce.

As my family came with me, we chose to stay in the city of Montpellier in order to be near kid’s activities, sightseeing and shopping, and so I drove up to the plateau every day, which involved grinding up a winding mountainous road in 2nd or 3rd gear passing betweenÂ  grape vines and through picturesque little villages with roads barely wide enough for a single car, let alone the school bus!

Anyway, along with the fun and frivolity, some matroid theory was actually accomplished. I talked about one of my favourite open problems, namely whether or not there is an upper-root-free interval for the characteristic polynomials of cographic matroids (aka the flow polynomial of a graph) or more generally, whether every proper minor-closed family of binary matroids that does not contain all graphs has an upper characteristic-root-free interval. Here are the slides from my talk (LaVacquerie2011).

The other main topic of discussion was our proposed matroid package for the computer algebra system Sage. After the last meeting in Wellington, Rudi Pendavingh and Stefan Van Zwam have worked really hard on it and now have a working “alpha-version” of the package. We’re just wondering now how to organize ourselves properly in terms of version control etc.

Anyway, now the conference is over, we leave France in a couple of days. It has been an interesting trip in many ways so I’ll finish this post with three good things about France and three bad things about France.

### Three Good Things About France

Bread – beautiful beautiful baguettes and croissants that cost 75 eurocents each! I know Perth is expensive but why do croissants have to be TRIPLE the price of those in France? Actually all food in France is far far cheaper than in Perth.

Motorway Driving – a speed limit of 130kmh which really helped on the drive from Paris to Montpellier. Also it seems so sensible to have a speed limit that is dependent on road conditions (in rain, the limit drops to 110kmh).

The French – everyone (well, almost everyone) we met was relaxed and friendly and seemed to go out of their way to help us. Our mediocre French was welcomed everywhere, the market sellers and shop owners smiled at the kids, gave them cherries and generally made us feel welcome.