Mathematical Instruments: 21st Century Educator

September 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Mathematical Instruments.

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

This post is part of the series Mathematical Instruments in which we introduce you to some of the math bloggers listed on our site. Today:

David Wees — 21st Century Educator

What’s your blog’s name? Any other places (Twitter, Google+, Facebook etc) we can find you on?

My blog’s name is 21st century educator, which was really a hastily made decision. Were I to rename my blog, I can think of many other choices which would be better, but for now I’ve decided to stick with this name. You can find me on Twitter and Google+. My Facebook account is for friends and family only.

Would you tell us a little bit more about yourself? E.g., Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your background? Any scientific education?

I grew up in beautiful British Columbia, in a quiet place called Denman Island. I’ve since lived in Vancouver (where I did two of my university degrees), Brooklyn, London, and Bangkok, and I am now back in Vancouver. My educational philosophy is that learning happens best through a mixture of exploration, and guided exploration. My education background is that I have a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics) (which would have been honours, but I didn’t bother to finish up the 4 elective courses I needed), a Bachelor of Education (Secondary Mathematics), and a Masters degree in Educational Technology. I have been teaching for the past 10 years, mostly mathematics course, but a few science courses as well. I have future plans to complete a PHD program as well, although I have not yet decided where, or in what.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs? When did you start blogging?

I started blogging in 2005, and about the same time, I started reading other people’s blogs. I have always found it fascinating to connect with other people. Most of my reading has been on mathematics education, but I’ve recently started following blogs of mathematicians as well.

Why did you start? What do you write about?

My created my first blog as a way to keep in touch with family and friends when my wife and I were about to move to London. I shared the link with my mother, who was my primary audience (she even commented on some of my posts!), and used the blog to share pictures and stories from our life in London. My next blog was about computer programming, and focused on the development I was doing in JavaScript, ActionScript/Flash, and PHP. It actually remains somewhat popular today, and I receive almost 1/3 of the hits to my site to my old programming blog. In 2008, I started an educational blog where I talk about technology, philosophy, and mathematics education.

What wouldn’t have happened to you without the internet?

The Internet is the most powerful tool for communication ever invented on this planet. When I do not have access to the Internet for small periods of time, I take the time to reflect and talk to the people around me more. When I do have access to the Internet, I try and make sure that the people who are around me take priority, and that the Internet is a tool I use for communication with people who are not present. I find the Internet incredibly useful as a way to learn about a wide variety of perspectives, and to share my perspective with a wide variety of people, and hence get feedback on my work. Without the Internet, I’m sure I would have not been exposed to the variety of ideas that I now know about, and I would be a far less effective educator.

What does the internet need more of?

There is a lot of dross on the Internet. We need better ways to rate the reliability of information on the net, so that people who are not as careful about checking the reliability of information they find are not pulled in by the scammers quite as easily.

Mathematicians on the web have…

Opened up a new era for mathematical collaboration. Some ideas will be much easier to solve with many people working on them simultaneously, as the sum of the abilities of the various mathematicians working on a project is greater than the individual parts. Similarly, we will always need some people working more in isolation who bring forward more complete ideas that aren’t influenced by the misconceptions of others. A great example of this type of collaboration is the Polymath blog.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

I read an enormous amount each day as I am following several hundred blogs, a few hashtag conversations on Twitter (right now #edchat #mathchat but I also follow conference hashtags as they appear). See here for the mathematics education blogs I am following.

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Mathematical Instruments: ACME Science

September 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

Mathematical Instruments.

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

This post is part of the series Mathematical Instruments in which we introduce you to a math blogger. Today:

ACME Science (and more), Samuel Hansen

What’s your blog’s name? Any other places we can find you on (Twitter, Google+, Facebook etc)?

I am the producer of the new mathematical story podcast Relatively Prime, one of the people behind the expository mathematics blog Second-Rate Minds, and the sole proprietor of the podcast empire known as ACMEScience.com. You can also find me on twitter under the names @Samuel_Hansen and @acmescience, and if you are industrious you could add me to a G+ circle, being warned that I have not posted to it in months and have no plans on posting to it again anytime soon.

Would you tell us a little bit more about yourself?  E.g., Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your background?  Any scientific education?

I am a good midwestern boy. I was born in the same house that I currently base myself out of, and that house if a good 10 miles outside of the nearest 2 horse town. I spent a lot of my early life starved for media, and people, that would hold my interest and then, as if by divine intervention, came the internet. Without the internet, well I do not want to think of where I would be without the internet. As soon as I could I left my birthplace and got myself a couple of degrees in mathematics, while at the same time realizing that the mathematical establishment was not a place I would function well. So I took my love of radio and podcasts and combined it with mathematics, and 6 podcasts later here I am. I am a huge proponent of wider scientific communication, in fact I believe that scientists have an obligation to talk about their work to anyone who happens to want to listen. Finally, I support copy-left and release all of my content under creative commons licenses so that everyone can remix and reuse.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

Google, how else?

When did you start blogging?

When I was first applying to graduate schools I went looking for mathematical podcasts, and the fields were depressing bare. Once I got to graduate school I decided that I would do everything that I could to fix that problem and started a chatty, and rather vulgar, panel show called Combinations and Permutations. Soon, I found that was not enough and started interviewing people with mathematical jobs and called that show Strongly Connected Components. That led to the Math/Maths podcast and Second-Rate Minds and an audience big enough to fund my Relatively Prime Kickstarter and Science Sparring Society and now this questionnaire that I am answering.

Why did you start?

I wanted to make something so that the next person who went looking like I had would have something to find.

What do you write about?

Most of my content is in audio form which covers everything from discursive pop-culture filled conversations about some mathematical topic to interviews with researchers, communicators, and movie directors to fights from the history of science. When I do write I tend to prefer narrative, be that in the form of a fictional future or the moment that I decided mathematics was right for me (that is a soon to be released post actually).

What wouldn’t have happened to you without the internet?

My life.

What does the internet need more of?

Everything. Really, this is an ecosystem that has more content than I could ever hope to consume and still there are things that I can not find.

Mathematicians on the web have…

made the subject simultaneously less and more frightening. The community that has been created by mathematicians on the internet is amazing, things like Polymath and MathOverflow are awe inspiring, but there is so much more that can and should be done. So, let’s go do it.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

I follow at most 150 people on my personal twitter account, and I read every single thing that they post. I also follow a lot more people with my acmescience twitter account that I skim every couple of hours. That is where I get almost all of my mathematical content.

I also subscribe, via rss, to 70 or 80 blogs, boingboing, polis, bldgblog, io9Brain PickingsGowers’s Weblog, etc, from which I read at least all the headlines. I am also an active tumblr user, where I follow around 100 different people and post one cool thing I found on the internet everyday.

Finally, I am subscribed to around 40 podcasts that I stay mostly on top of, I am currently caught up with all of the weekly release episodes and am working through the back catalog of a History of the Earth in 100 Objects, that range from comedy, Stop Podcasting Yourself, The Best Show on WFMU, and You Look Nice Today, to news, Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, On the Media, and Slate’s Political Gabfest, to sheer awesome, RadioLab, 99% Invisible, and The Memory Palace.

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Mathblogging.org — The Blog by mathblogging.org is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.mathblogging.org.

Mathematical Instruments: The Accidental Mathematician

September 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

Mathematical Instruments.

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

This post is part of the series Mathematical Instruments in which we introduce you to a math blogger. Today:

The Accidental Mathematician, Izabella Laba

What’s your blog’s name? Any other places we can find you on (Twitter, Google+, Facebook etc)?

I blog at The Accidental Mathematician. (The name is a variation on “The Accidental Tourist,” the title of an Anne Tyler book.) I have a professional webpage at UBC (for preprints, CV, teaching), and another one shared with my research group. I also have accounts on Google+, Twitter, and a couple of others that I keep more private. My Google+ page is mostly for photography, although I post math links occasionally and have mathematicians and scientists in my circles. Twitter has long been a source of good links and an easy way to post such links on the sidebar of my blog, but I’ve only recently started to use it to talk with people.

Would you tell us a little bit more about yourself? E.g., Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your background? Any scientific education?

I grew up in Poland and did my undergraduate studies at Wroclaw University. I moved to Canada in 1989. I received a Ph.D. degree in mathematics from the University of Toronto in 1994, then held a postdoctoral position at UCLA (1994-97), and an assistant professor position at Princeton University (1997-2000). I have lived in Vancouver and worked at UBC since 2000.

As for my life background (philosophical, cultural, etc), I have already written a few long posts that only scratched the surface. I won’t attempt a one-paragraph explanation here.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

I have been reading blogs on a regular basis since sometime in the mid-2000s. Most of them have not been math blogs. I was spending enough time on mathematics and work already and felt that my other interests were slipping away. I craved reading about politics, history, social issues, art, books, writing, everything else in life.

I liked the flexibility of the blog format. In the short run, you can adapt it any way you want: posts can be long or very short, formal or not, frequent or scarce, comments might or might not be allowed. Over time, the short pieces add up to a larger body of work. A discussion can be continued over a series of posts, so that one doesn’t have to start from scratch every time. Great communities can form around some of the more popular blogs.

The engaging writing style found on blogs was a welcome reprieve from mathematical writing. Too often, we slip when we write for a captive audience. We tell the reader repeatedly that the subject of our writing is “interesting” or “exciting,” because otherwise they’d never be able to tell. I also loved the creative use of language in blogging. Beautiful things can happen when a good writer is set loose without a copyeditor looking over his or her shoulder.

When did you start blogging? Why did you start? What do you write about?

I started in Fall 2007 and kept a low profile for the first few months while I was sorting out how it worked. Eventually people found it, of course.

I wanted to try writing something other than research papers and grant proposals on a regular basis, preferably for an actual live audience, since otherwise I wasn’t sure I would stay motivated enough in the long run. I didn’t quite know yet what I was going to write, but I would figure it out. This was and always will be the main reason.

Second, my patience was being tested by popular misconceptions and one-dimensional views of university professors, mathematicians, and women in male-dominated professions. Too many people have no idea of what our work actually looks like, but feel that they are entitled to very strong opinions nonetheless. I needed a way to sort through it, not just for my readers (I didn’t even know if I would have any) but also for myself, so that I’d know what to say next time it comes up.

The conversations about women in math were especially annoying. They still are. They keep going around in very small circles: what if there are biological differences, what if there aren’t, what if diversity policies cause more harm than good, what if they don’t, and so on. Once I started writing on the subject, I tried to push the discussion beyond that. It’s difficult. I can write a long argument attempting some nuance, and commenters still tell me that “women are just different” or “but this [insert specific examples from my own experience here] just doesn’t happen.” Still, the posts have been read and linked fairly widely in the community, so hopefully I’ve made some contribution there.

On matters of research and academic policy, I wanted to have my own public voice. I was tired of administrators and self-appointed spokespeople (there are many) expressing opinions on my behalf that I did not agree with.

Once in a while I write about something more personal and unrelated to my profession: art, languages, books, politics. In that regard, I have no agenda or long-term goal; these are subjects that interest me in real life, I read and think about them, and sometimes it gets to the point where I need to write a blog post.

What wouldn’t have happened to you without the internet? What does the internet need more of?

Without the internet, I would have never seen Bowie perform The Elephant Man on Broadway. Now I have – there are several clips posted on YouTube. Seriously.

The internet is great for communicating, networking, disseminating information. I’ve made contacts through the internet that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. There is a tendency, though, to speak of “the internet” and “real life” as if they were separate from each other. They’re not. I write on the internet, but the subject of my writing is usually drawn from my life experience. The internet offers instant access to vast stores of information that might not be available to me otherwise, but the value of that information lies in its relation to the actual, non-virtual world. I often seek out older material that pre-dates the internet. When I interact with people online, it is different from meeting them in person, but that does not make it less “real.”

This is a roundabout way of saying that I can’t tell what wouldn’t have happened to me without the internet. The internet is a means, not an end, and I would have likely sought the same ends by whatever means might have been available instead.

Mathematicians on the web have…

probably forgotten what life was like before the internet. We can be awfully slow to adapt new technologies when the effort involved might, in our judgement, trump the benefits. Clickers and in-class educational videos have elicited a mixed response at best. The internet, though, offered a solution to a problem that clearly needed one. The dissemination of research really used to be a problem in ye goode olde days. Now, the author can post a paper on the arXiv the day it’s finished, the interested researchers download it the next day, then use the results in their own research a month or two later. Can’t argue with that.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

I read a wide variety of books and articles: fiction and non-fiction, old and new. I’m not sure how to separate my “web reading” from reading in general. If I download a classic book from Project Gutenberg, does that count as web reading? That said, there is a remarkable variety of writing available on the internet, and I’ve learned not to dismiss any part of it for superficial reasons. Some of the best writing I’ve found on the web has been near the far end of the “long tail,” on obscure subjects that nonetheless mean the world to the author.

If we restrict it to blogs, then it’s easier to pick my favourite: Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic, by a large margin. If I could only read one blog, that would be it, for the range of topics, the depth of analysis, the fantastic writing, and the best comment section I’ve seen anywhere. After that, it gets pretty diverse again. I check a number of math blogs on a regular basis, but I also read general interest blogs leaning towards science, culture and politics (Boing Boing, 3 Quarks Daily) as well as blogs written by writers, scientists, historians, artists, musicians. This is stuff I used to get second-hand from newspapers or magazines, but now I can go directly to the source of the information. That’s one of the best things about the internet.

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Mathblogging.org — The Blog by mathblogging.org is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.mathblogging.org.

Mathematical Instruments: Nuit Blanche

September 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Mathematical Instruments.

This is the first post in a new series, in which we will let bloggers tell you a little bit about themselves. We call it “Mathematical Instruments” because we see blogging as a valuable addition to the toolbox for research and education. But it is still fairly new and sometimes gets overlooked or dismissed by people who don’t know what to use it for.

The idea of these short interviews is that we can learn a little more about how this instrument can be used, and meet some of the people who are already using it.

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

Nuit Blanche: Igor Carron

What’s your blog’s name? Any other places (Twitter, Google+, Facebook etc) people can find you on?

It’s called Nuit Blanche. I also occasionally write on Robust Mathematical Modeling, Wondering Star, and “Where are the clouds?”.

Nuit Blanche mainly focuses on new emerging fields such as compressive sensing and low rank matrix factorization, and really everything that provides an insight on how to deal with very large datasets and complex problems. I also use Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest.

All these platforms are not a place to find me but rather they are means to start a conversation with some of the best minds in the world. Most interesting discussions happen by direct emails or as a result of retweets on Twitter, comments on the blog or on Google+ and, most of all, in the discussions taking place on the LinkedIn groups dedicated to compressive sensing and advanced matrix factorization. Both groups feature more than 1400 and 230 professionals from all walks of engineering and science ranging from the oil or the financial industry, to large internet companies to biology, optical engineering, physics all the way to theoretical computer science and mathematics. We have a pretty unique discussion that I do not think is occurring in the walled garden of specialties favored in academia.

Would you tell us a little bit more about yourself? E.g., Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your background?  Any scientific education?

On the interwebs, nobody knows you are a dog. Let’s just say I hold a Ph.D in engineering and I have mostly lived in the U.S. and Europe. I did my undergrad in France where there is much emphasis on math as a selective process. I think it’s a mistake for no other reasons than it selects people who tend to believe Mathematics as a canned process.

Philosophically, my motto is: “We don’t have much time, I want to see mesmerizing technology in my lifetime.”

For instance, through our discussions, I want to see if “These technologies do not exist” and if “Imaging with Nature” is even possible. I have been proven wrong twice on the “technologies do not exist” list since it was started. I want to see more…

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

The first two mathematically inclined blogs I took heart to follow were those of Andrew Gelman and Terry Tao. I must have started reading them a year into each of them had started.

When did you start blogging?

2003, the year the Columbia crashed over Texas.

Why did you start?

Nuit Blanche stands for restless night in French. Let’s just say that most entries were written in the middle of the night because I could not get to sleep. Since then, most entries are posted at 12 am Texas time. As the readership increased I noticed entries were always posted at midnight for someone…Blogging came as a way to decrease my ignorance on the subject of compressive sensing. I figured that asking and answering dumb questions in a public forum was the best way for others not to ask them. I eventually figured that it provided a community service of sorts. I eventually noticed that these discussions eventually had an impact on how some papers were written and that some people got to talk to each other as a result. That singlehandedly blew my mind, I did not realize that a blog could be an agent of change.

What do you write about?

I blog about the whole spectrum of issues related to compressive sensing, how to deal with ever increasing data flood, how we can have better sensors and much more.

What wouldn’t have happened to you without the internet?

I’d be a Billionaire.

What does the internet need more of?

Better search engines on what is said on blogs. These blogs are having the best discussions in the whole world and nobody is paying attention on how to mine this unique resource. Like they say in Texas, it’s a damn shame.

Mathematicians on the web have…

…an ability to be agents of change.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

Too numerous to list. A few of them are listed on the right hand side of Nuit Blanche.

(published under creative commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

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