Mathematical Instruments: Gianluigi Filippelli

April 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

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:

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

Gianluigi Filippelli– dropsea

Apart from dropsea, any places like other blogs, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc. we can find you on?

I have a blog on Field of Science (Doc Madhattan)  and you can find me also on twitter (@ulaulaman) and Google+. I’m also on tumblr and sometimes I write for Lo Spazio Bianco, a web fun magazine about comics. And recently I started to try the Old Reader (profile)!

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

I studied physics in Italy, my country, where I got a master degree (with a calculation of a cross section) and a PhD (with a work about theory of ray representations) in physics at the University of Calabria in Cosenza. About five years ago I moved to Milano in order to teach mathematics and physics as substitute and support teacher. Two years ago I started a collaboration with the committee that organizes the Italian edition of the International Astronomy Olympiad. In this case my work consists in the design and realization of the web support for Italian students, but in this period, ’cause a lack of funds, my collaboration is free and bound to my school commitments.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

During my first year as wikipedian: in search of a good source I found Matem@ticamente by Annarita Ruberto. A great discovery!

What is the story behind the name of your blog?

The first name of my blog was Goccia a goccia (dropwise), but after reading Dropsie Avenue, a graphic novel by Will Eisner, I immediately decided to celebrate this great book with my blog, so I opted for dropsea: in this way I can refer to Eisner’s book and to the popular saying a drop in the ocean.

When did you start blogging? Why did you start?

At the end of 2002. After the first edits on Wikipedia, I wanted a simple way to update my first web page and the blog seemed the suitable means. The first version of the blog (it was essentially a personal web log) was updated using a software installed on my computer, but after a couple of years I opened a new page on the server of my physics department using a tiddlywiki. Finally, at the end of 2007, I switched to blogger.

What do you write about?

My blog was started as a personal blog, so I continue to write about books and comics, but little by little I started to write about physics and mathematics as well. My scientific posts are about the story of physics and mathematics and sometimes about the latest news in research.

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

I cannot imagine my life without internet: probably I would not work for the Italian Astronomy Olympiad, but I really don’t know if would even be a teacher…

What does the internet need more of?

It is necessary that the better content emerges between the noise, and a site aggregator like mathblogging.org is one of the better tools needed for this purpose.

Mathematicians on the web have…

Mathematical knowledge, that is a very important tool to read our world.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

First of all my twitter’s timeline. After that I go to mathblogging.org and scienceseeker.org to read good sources about science. My other passion is comics, so I usually read the news directly on the site of the editors (Dc Comics, Marvel, Dark Horse, Idw…). And weekly I read the posts about my web-friends, like Peppe Liberti, Lucia Marino, Maurizio Codogno, Popinga, and obviously Annarita!

Other interesting blogs are in my blogroll and in my sharing items on Old Reader.

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Mathematical Instruments: Physicist

April 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

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:

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

Physicist — Ask A Mathematician/Ask a Physicist

Apart from Ask A Mathematician/Ask a Physicist, any places like other blogs, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc. we can find you on?

There is a twitter account, @AAMAAP, but it’s only used to announce new posts to the blog.  If you have any other way of keeping track of your reading it’s really not worth subscribing to it.

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

My personal philosophy, and hopefully this comes across in the blog, is that there’s nothing particularly mysterious or difficult to understand about the universe, given a little time and effort.  That said, it’s very difficult to effectively learn and research on your own, and sometimes you just need to talk to a “professional” to speed things up.
In college I did a double major in Math and Physics and am presently completing a PhD in Math with an eye towards physics.  My research (such as it is) is in quantum information theory, which is where all of the really interesting and weird quantum stuff is studied.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

Mostly by backtracking incoming links to AAMAAP.  I hadn’t realized there were nearly this many math nerds!

What is the story behind the name of your blog?

When you go to Burningman it is assumed (hoped) that you’ll give back in some non-monetary way.  So, you’ll see lots of free bars, free ice cream, free mini-golf courses, that sort of thing.  Having nothing else to offer other than being moderately friendly and knowing some obscure stuff, we (the Mathematician and I) set up a little tent with a sign that said “Ask a Mathematician / Ask a Physicist”, which we thought conveyed the idea pretty clearly.  A lot of people wandered by and asked a lot of really interesting questions that just couldn’t go to waste.  So the blog happened.

When did you start blogging?

October 2009.  There was a big burst of posts from questions that had been asked in person, but since then the vast majority have been by email.

Why did you start?

Seemed like a nice thing to do.

What do you write about?

The topic is entirely determined by what questions are received by email.  In the event that I know an answer, can explain it even a little, and that it has even a small chance of being interesting to anyone else, the question and answer become the next post.

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

This questionnaire for one.  I’m not making any money or getting famous or anything, so at a guess; without the internet things would probably be about the same.  I’d probably talk on the phone more and spend more time in libraries (learning things much slower).

Mathematicians on the web have…

Generosity and patience.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

xkcd, and whatever I accidentally stumble on.  Other than writing for AAMAAP and email, I spend very little time online.

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Mathematical Instruments: Kate Nowak

March 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

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:

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

Kate Nowak — f(t)

Apart from f(t), any places like other blogs, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc. we can find you on?

My twitter handle is @k8nowak, and I am on Google+.

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

I spent eight years teaching high school mathematics, mostly at a large public high school in upstate NY. I would like to characterize my instruction, loosely, as problem-based learning, informed heavily by Piaget, Vygotsky, and Polya. Their findings translated to my classroom with variable success. But certainly improved over time, aided by reflection and feedback through blogging.

Currently, I’m writing lessons, and figuring out how to support teachers in teaching them well, at Mathalicious.com. I think that we, as a profession, know all we can know about how to teach mathematics well. I see a bottleneck in implementation – how do we get US classroom teachers to actually do these things we know to be effective? I’m grateful to be in a position where I can try to figure that out, and help in a very concrete way.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

I think it must have been in my first year of teaching, feeling overwhelmed and clueless, desperately searching the Internet for ideas about how to get my job done.

What is the story behind the name of your blog?

It seemed like a good fit for an early-career math teacher sharing, reflecting, and learning. The point of view of f(t) has been pretty consistently “I feel like I am pretty terrible at my job, but I have moments of clarity, and through work, thoughtfulness, and asking questions, I can improve incrementally.” The name encapsulates that. The working name when I first started was “Mouse Trapezoid” which is TERRIBLE.

Why did you start?

I had things to say! Even with supportive colleagues, teaching is often an isolating experience. Formal observations and evaluations were helpful, but only occurred a few times a year. I was hungry for a place to articulate things I had learned, ask for advice, share things I created that worked well, and process professional articles I had read online and in print.

What do you write about?

Lessons that worked and didn’t work, how to put classroom content in a context that kids can grab hold of, activities and games that worked and might work for others, productive and challenging interactions with students. What makes this hard, and ways of thinking and practicing that helped me be more effective. These days, I am writing about lots of the same things, but from the point of view of a curriculum creator working to help practicing teachers get better.

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

I suppose it’s impossible to say. I don’t think I would have developed into nearly the teacher I am today without the professional interaction I’ve found online. Also, I probably wouldn’t have found my current position. Also, the company I work for wouldn’t exist.

What does the internet need more of?

In talking to teachers, I most often find that they would like to change their practice. They would like to tell a coherent mathematical story, present content in a way that is relevant and engaging to their students, emphasize the most important concepts, and show students how mathematical concepts are connected to each other. But they are afraid that the tests used to judge their worth will not be aligned with the stated goals of the new standards. They feel pressure to teach unnecessary skills in isolation, just in case they will be required knowledge on the tests. They are not shy about sharing these concerns online, but it feels like no one is listening. I think the internet needs more federal and state education officials, test item writers, and administrators engaging with practicing teachers and responding to their concerns.

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Mathematical Instruments: Patrick Vennebush

March 1, 2013 § 1 Comment

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:

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

Patrick Vennebush — Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks

Apart from Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, any places like other blogs, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc. we can find you on?

I’m on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, but I shamefully admit that I’m not terribly active in any of those forums.

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

I live in northern Virginia with my wife Nadine, who laughs at 80% of my jokes; my twin sons Alex and Eli, who only appreciate 20% of my humor; and my golden retriever Remy, who has never been very good with percents. I’ve worked at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) for the past eight years, though I recently accepted a new position as Director of Mathematics at Discovery Education. I’m a teacher by training but a math dork by design.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

I have no idea. I’ve been reading math blogs for years. I couldn’t tell you which math blog I read first. Smart money says that it was one of Sam Shah, Dan Meyer, or Wild About Math, but I don’t remember for sure. I do remember that Sol Lederman at Wild About Math was instrumental in helping me to start and promote my own blog.

What is the story behind the name of your blog?

The short answer is that it’s the name of my book with the same title, but that’s not very satisfying. Truth is, I thought it was fun that jokes and folks rhyme, and I’ve always liked the word mathy. (I especially like that mathy is gaining acceptance in the math community, but spellchecker still gives it a squiggly, red underline.) And what would a math title be if a number wasn’t used in some cutesy way to replace a word? Putting all that together brought me to Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks.

When did you start blogging?

About a month before I finished writing my master’s thesis, I told my wife that I had a collection of 400 jokes that I wanted to publish. Ever practical, she said, “How ‘bout you wait till your thesis is done before you look for a publisher?” So, I waited to find a publisher… but I started blogging immediately. The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog was born on March 10, 2010, and the Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks book was published on August 9, 2010. (Which is an inside joke, by the way… the publication date in the American format was 8/9/10.)

Why did you start?

In 2008, my boss encouraged me to jump on stage and do some math jokes at the NCTM Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City. To his surprise, I did. It drew a small crowd, and I told jokes for about ten minutes. Buoyed by the success of that silliness, we planned a “math joke hour” at the 2009 NCTM Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. It drew over 400 attendees! The only problem was that I had only prepared 18 minutes of material. One disgruntled attendee walked out saying, “That was only a math joke third-of-an-hour!” But even though that event wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped, it was exhilarating to make people laugh. I understood the comedian’s high that I’d heard about. I figured that I should try to make folks laugh more often. About six months later, I finally found time to start a math jokes blog.

What do you write about?

Jokes, mostly, and no topic is taboo. I make fun of mathematics, professors, teachers, public education, and myself. But I also try to sprinkle in lots of classroom ideas, and I love to post interesting problems when I find them. Especially ones that I haven’t been able to solve myself, and then let the comments pile up on the way to an elegant solution.

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

My job for the last eight years has been Online Projects Manager at NCTM, in charge of the Illuminations project. The resources on that website — and my job — wouldn’t have existed without the Internet. More importantly, my community of colleagues would have been much smaller without the web. How awesome is it to solicit opinions from thousands of people with the click of a button?

What does the internet need more of?

Exceptional math resources. There are so many people doing great work in this regard — Colleen King at Cool Math, the good folks at NRICH, and Wolfram Alpha, to name just a few. But I can’t say what we need more of without addressing what we need less of. Instructional videos that use pedagogical techniques from the 19th century have done nothing to help our cause; they perpetuate the misconception that blindly enacting algorithms is what it means to do math. Far too many sites have flash card apps, drill-and-kill math games that fail to promote conceptual understanding, and similar dreck that causes kids to perceive math as a big memorization game. We need more resources that promote conceptual understanding and fewer resources that try to teach math like it’s still the 1950’s.

Mathematicians on the web have…

…an awesome sense of humor! I love that we are slowly dispelling the myth that mathematicians are humorless.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

My must-reads change regularly, but Dan Meyer continues to inspire, Denise at Let’s Play Math continually provides great ideas, and xkcd, Spiked Math, and The Oatmeal often make milk come out of my nose.

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Mathematical Instruments: Sue VanHattum

February 22, 2013 § 1 Comment

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:

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

Sue VanHattum — Math Mama writes…

Apart from Math Mama Writes…, any other places (other blogs, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc.) we can find you on?

I’m editing a book with over 30 authors, Playing With Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and Passionate Teachers, and we hope to have it out in a few more months, so I have a Facebook page to promote it (Playing With Math, of course). That’s about it. I have the Twitter and Google+ accounts, but don’t use them, really.

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

I live in Richmond, California, and I teach at a community college. I really want to make math accessible. I loved math when I was young. (At the library, my first foray outside the children’s section was for a book on codes and ciphers in the adult section.) Then I got convinced by the University of Michigan that I didn’t really like math, barely escaping with my math BA. When I found my niche teaching community college students, I needed a master’s degree to get full-time work. I got that at Eastern Michigan University, where I fell back in love with math. I then went to a PhD program at UCSD, knowing full well that it might be like U of M for me. It was, and I quit after a year. (I would have quit after a month, but didn’t want to lose my student housing.) So I knew I loved math, but wasn’t cut out for the rigors of a PhD. I wanted to teach.

I’ve been teaching community college for about 20 years, plus a few years teaching at other levels. I’ve always been frustrated at how little of the focus in math classes is on mathematical thinking. Almost 5 years ago, I had the chance to teach at my son’s alternative school and started looking for ideas online. I joined a homeschooler’s math list, Living Math Forum, which was wonderful, and discovered both math circles and blogs through that list.

That started me on a wonderful journey. These days I feel like I’m becoming a mathematician. It’s exhilarating.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

Kate Nowak’s blog may have been the first one I really followed. I met Kate at my first math circle training in 2008, and when she started her blog that fall, I started following it. She mentored me as I began writing my blog the next spring. (I had created it two years earlier and done nothing with it.) She also introduced me to Google Reader. I probably follow about 200 math teacher blogs.

What is the story behind the name of your blog?

It took me a very long time to become a mama, and I’m very happy to be my son’s mama now. I like relating that to my other passions. And I want to try to be nurturing in my approach to math.

Why did you start?

I already had this idea in my head for a book about the math ed sorts of things that are happening outside the classroom setting. I knew I wanted to get Julie Brennan’s pieces from Living Math Forum on homeschooling, and I hoped to get material from people I knew in the math circle world. Since I teach in classrooms, it seemed like a good idea to bring classroom teachers into the mix, too. And the easiest way to do that was to join in on the  blogging party.

What do you write about?

It varies a lot. Here’s what I can think of (but I may be missing some):

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

My book! Becoming an editor. Becoming more of a writer. Becoming part of a community of math enthusiasts. Getting involved with math circles. Doing mathematics outside my teaching. Thinking about Pythagorean triples. Reading Math Girls, and The Cat In Numberland, Out of the Labyrinth: Setting Mathematics Free, and… (Learning how to use hyperlinks. Hee hee.) Watching Vi Hart videos. Becoming friends with Maria Droujkova, Amanda Serenvy, John Golden, and lots more great mathy people. Also, I would have been much more isolated as a single parent when my son was young.

What does the internet need more of?

I have no idea. Most of what I want, I find.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

You don’t want to know all of the blogs I read – there are way too many. But I can point you to some of my favorites. (When someone claimed that more men blog about math, I made a collection of all the women I follow. Your readers may want to check that list out. My favorite bloggers include: Malke Roesenfeld (homeschooler and artist-in-schools, integrating math and dance), Fawn Nguyen, Kate Nowak, Math for Love, Gary Davis, John Golden, and Christopher Danielson. My favorite non-math blogs might be Science Teacher(Michael Doyle) and Laura Grace Weldon. Holly Graff (an unschooler) and Michelle Martin (a 4th/5th teacher) post less often, but I love their posts.

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Mathematical Instruments: Alexander Bogomolny

February 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

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:

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

Alexander Bogomolny — CTK Insights

Apart from CTK Insights, any places like other blogs, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc. we can find you on?

My main and oldest site is Interactive Mathematics Miscellany and Puzzles. I can be found on facebook, twitter, and under my own name – Alexander Bogomolny – on Google+.

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

I was born in Moscow, USSR; graduated from the Moscow State University with M.S. in Mathematics. My Math Ph.D. is from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I taught college math for many years, been tenured at the University of Iowa, but eventually decided to move into consulting.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

The CTK Insights is in fact an after-thought. I started my web site in 1996, wrote my first JavaScript game in 1997, but then switched to Java. Blogs appeared much later. Blogs have an added facility that allows visitors to leave comments. I began blogging probably 3 years ago. However, the blog could not substitute for a 3000 page web site; I had to maintain both. Past year I have discovered software from Discus.com which to all intents and purposes converts a web site to a blog. Since then I am hard pressed to split the material between the site and the blog.

What is the story behind the name of your blog?

At the time I started the web site I lived at 1 Alexander Road. Being an Alexander, the association was always on my mind. I started the site with the idea of collecting interesting and beautiful mathematics – something that children do not necessarily see within our educational system.
I am very little – if at all – concerned with the quality of the educational system as it is now and as it has been as long as we care to remember. I do not believe that all children should receive more or less same education, or that algebra or geometry should be a prerequisite for graduation. As a matter of fact, I do not believe that forced studying of mathematics does any good to students’ mind. (There is a myth that math improves student’s logical abilities – it may be in some, it is a drag on many others.) I believe that the system needs a radical change. The kind of change that may be needed can be illustrated by the legend of Alexander the Great who, when offered to untie the Gordian knot, produced a sword and cut the knot into two. Cut-the-knot is a shadow of those musings.

What do you write about?

Math, math problems, math books, math education.

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

In the aftermath of the hurricane Sandy, we lived 13 days without power, i.e., no light, no TV, no internet, no mail, no news, etc. We cuddled more than usual and spent more time together as a family, but dearly felt the missing links to the outside world. Internet became part of our life pattern, and – for me – a regular workplace. Without the internet I would probably stay a math professor.

What does the internet need more of?

I never stopped to consider this question. I see how briskly entrepreneurship thrives on, and for, the internet and web, and feel that it is best to let it evolve on its own.

Mathematicians on the web have…

an extra (and a multifaceted at that) channel of communication. It’s a rich way to share knowledge and reach new audiences.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

Jerusalem Post, Fox News, whatever news are gathered for me on my tablet by pulse.com (io9, Huffington Post, CNN, MathOverflow, many more), then also facebook, twitter, Google+.

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Mathematical Instruments: Nassif Ghoussoub

February 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

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:

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

Nassif Ghoussoub — Piece of Mind

Apart from “Piece of Mind”, any places like other blogs, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc. we can find you on?

I do also Twitter but nothing else. I have another “UBC Board of Governors” blog connected to the University Housing Action Plan. It is now dormant, as the plan has passed. It is now waiting for another issue to pop up.

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

I seem to be from “everywhere”. Born in Africa, raised in the Middle East (Lebanon), Graduate studies in Paris, Postdoctoral work in the US and now at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver (for 3 decades). I work on nonlinear analysis and PDEs. I have been a vocal advocate for the mathematical sciences, working at building (intellectual) capacity: PIMS (1995), MITACS (1998), BIRS (2003), Mprime (2011)

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

I can’t really remember. I do recall however, seeing Isabella Laba’s blog, “The accidental mathematician”, and was impressed by how much her blog allows her to discuss substantive issues that she cannot discuss elsewhere and for which there is no real forum (She is my colleague and I know).

What is the story behind the name of your blog?

Well, I am somewhat known as (and often chastised for being) a person who speaks “his mind”. Plus, I think I was subconsciously aware of the new branding exercise at my home university, “UBC-A Place of Mind.”

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

I happen to represent the Faculty on the Board of Governors at UBC, and I had been scratching my head on how best to relay to my colleagues information about Board issues that concern them, and on how to get their input. And one day in November 2010, as I was lying bored in bed with a nasty flu, I started typing on my laptop, and I haven’t stopped since.

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

That’s a great question, because I really believe that none of my contributions to “building capacity” would have been possible without the Internet. PIMS and MITACS are both distributed institutions with many universities involved. I don’t know how scientists and staff could have coordinated and collaborated without the Internet. All my advocacy effort would have been unimaginable without it. Remember that we are many thousands of miles away from Ottawa!

What does the Internet need more of?

We need more mathematicians blogging, tweeting etc…our community is still relatively not well represented in the blogosphere, in spite of the list of blogs that you so rightly display and advertise.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

I am a news/information junky, albeit scientific, science policy, political, social, etc., … Reading the links that I receive through my twitter account is already a full-time job.

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Mathematical Instruments: Elissa Miller

February 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

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:

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

Elissa Miller — Misscalcul8

Apart from misscalcul8, any places like other blogs, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc. we can find you on?

You can find me on Twitter.

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

I am coming from a tiny school in a tiny town in Illinois. This year my mantra is to be less talkative which means I’m looking for ways to increase interaction and conversation between students.  I am constantly looking for ways to teach things from a conceptual viewpoint. One aspect of that is giving students the opportunity to discover and recognize patterns on their own rather than merely presenting information. My background is a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics Education.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

I discovered blogs about 6 months before my teaching career began. I was working as a substitute teacher and one day I was assigned to work in the library. There was literally
nothing to do and so I just started googling math teaching stuff and I stumbled on my first mathematical blog (www.samjshah.com) and have been hooked ever since.

What is the story behind the name of your blog?

The story actually comes from the second blog I ever read (http://function-of-time.blogspot.com/) written by Kate Nowak. Her twitter name is @k8nowak and so I started thinking of other ways to use the number 8 inside of a mathematical word. My cousins used to call me Miss Liss when I was younger because they knew that I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. It just kind of came together and my bloggy was born.

When did you start blogging?

I started blogging in February of 2009 as a substitute teacher. I wanted so badly to fit in but I really didn’t have anything to say yet- I wasn’t even in the classroom.  And so there follows about 6 months of blogging small talk and other nonsense.

Why did you start?

I have a very analytical mind by nature and I love to question why things happen or why they don’t.  I loved reading other teachers’ blogs and I just knew that eventually I would have a lot to contribute. I started out slowly blogging about what I knew- as I learned more, the quality of the blogging vastly increased.

What do you write about?

I started out writing mostly about feelings and situations, venting, bragging, and questioning. I loved to pose questions that I was facing and get feedback from a variety of teachers with a variety of backgrounds. My blog started to really head in that direction for the next few years. In the last nine months or so I feel like I’m no longer trying to survive my job but that I have a solid grasp on what I’m doing and that I can now contribute lesson ideas and resources. I hope that that is reflected in my blog- a place where teachers can come to find ideas and resources from a real live teacher.

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

I could not be a teacher without the internet. My entire first year of teaching was due solely to resources from the Internet. Teaching at a tiny school means there is no one to collaborate with and no planned curriculum. I was handed a textbook and that’s it. Through twitter and math blogging I found a wealth of resources- an entire support group-that accelerated my teaching ability more in four years than in twenty years without them. Emotionally they have provided me with encouragement and direction. Professionally they have provided me with resources, feedback, suggestions, and critiques. Personally they have offered their friendship. Without them I could not have made it- and would not have made it. With them, I excel at my job and enjoy doing it.

What does the internet need more of?

The internet needs more teachers of all content areas who are willing to share their knowledge and resources. People who are willing to be honest and open.

Mathematicians on the web have…

…a monopoly on the best professional development and professional learning network on the Internet.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

To check my daily reading you would have to check my page at http://www.misscalculate.blogspot.com/p/blogroll.html because there are entirely too many amazing blogs to even start naming them.

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Mathematical Instruments: John Baez

January 18, 2013 § 1 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:

John Baez — Azimuth

Apart from Azimuth, any other places (other blogs, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc.) we can find you on?

I post lots of short articles about math and other things on Google+.

Especially check out the series called #4d, about Platonic solids and their 4-dimensional relatives…and the series I’m currently writing, called #bigness, which is about large numbers and large countable ordinals.

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

I was born in California but grew up on the east coast of the US. I started out being interested in physics, and only drifted toward math when I found it was easier for me to discover things with pencil and paper than with experiments. My uncle, Albert Baez, is mainly known as the father of the folk singer Joan Baez. But he was a physics professor, and was the one who got me interested in physics in the first place. Since his specialty was physics education, he would always come to town with lasers, holographs, diffraction gratings and the like. I especially liked the green corrugated plastic tubes you could whirl over your head to make sounds — different harmonics illustrating the physics of standing waves.

When I was eight he gave me his college physics textbook, The New College Physics: A Spiral Approach. I remember staring fascinated at the hand-drawn pictures. Later that’s where my interest in particle physics started.

He had the first electronic calculator I ever saw. He gave me Silvanus P. Thompson’s classic Calculus Made Easy, and that’s how I learned calculus. He gave me Feynman’s Lectures on Physics, and that’s how I learned quantum mechanics, the summer of my junior year of high school, when I was working at a job building trails at a state park, living in a trailer with 9 other guys.

I went to college at Princeton and arranged my schedule so all I took was math and physics courses. For social sciences — mathematical economics. For philosophy — mathematical logic. I decided not to go into physics when I burned a hole in my coat with battery acid while doing an experiment. I was still passionately interested in physics, but I decided lab work was not for me. Plus, on math tests I always knew exactly what was being asked.

I was really interested in logic, and took courses with Benacerraf and Kripke. I was also interested in the anthropic principle. I hoped that ideas from logic might help us determine the amount of complexity a universe would need to have for life to arise in this universe and learn the laws of physics. But I had to water down this grand dream considerably to write a senior thesis. I wound up showing that time evolution for Schrodinger’s equation with inverse-square force laws are computable, in the sense of recursive analysis. In the process, I decided that anything worth computing in physics was computable. I gradually lost interest in logic. It was only a lot later, when I learned about topos theory, that it became interesting to me. Everyone who likes logic should learn that stuff.

I took a course on general relativity with Malcolm Perry and read Misner, Thorne and Wheeler’s wonderful book Gravitation. The poetic last chapter made me decide that nothing was more interesting than quantum gravity. However, I went to grad school at MIT and found that nobody in the math department was interested in quantum gravity, except for string theory, which was just becoming popular at the time. I wound up working with Irving Segal on constructive quantum field theory: the task of rigorously proving that quantum field theories exist. It seemed like a good idea to understand quantum field theory and its difficulties if I wanted to work on quantum gravity someday.

Constructive quantum field was too hard for me. After grad school, I wound up working with Segal and Zhengfang Zhou on classical field theory — that is, hyperbolic nonlinear partial differential equations, like the Yang-Mills equations. We studied scattering for equations like this.

After a two-year postdoc at Yale I was hired by U. C. Riverside in 1989. I was hired for my work on differential equations and thus considered an ‘analyst’. But after I got tenure I started working on quantum gravity, right when loop quantum gravity was catching on. I got to know a bunch of physicists and had a lot of fun doing what I’d been wanting to. We figured out a lot of stuff about spin networks and spin foams. My hope was to connect these ideas with some abstract math called higher category theory and come up with a purely algebraic (rather than differential-geometric) way of thinking about the laws of physics.

We reached the point where we could write down lots of theories of this sort, called ‘spin foam models’. But we didn’t find one for which we can show that General Relativity emerges as a good approximation at macroscopic distance scales. Around 2002, I helped my colleagues Dan Christensen and Greg Egan do some simulations to study this problem. Most of our results went completely against what everyone had expected. But worse, the more work we did, the more I realized I didn’t know what questions we should be asking!

Around this time, string theorists took note of loop quantum gravity and other critics — in part thanks to Peter Woit’s blog, his book Not Even Wrong, and Lee Smolin’s book The Trouble with Physics. String theorists weren’t used to criticism like this. A kind of “string-loop war” began. There was a lot of pressure for physicists to take sides for one theory or the other. Tempers ran high.

I eventually decided to quit work on quantum gravity and focus on math. When I’d first gotten involved with higher categories, around 1993, almost nobody cared about them. It was really my friend James Dolan who convinced me they were the key to the mathematical universe. I put a lot of time into popularizing them in my column This Week’s Finds. After a while, they became quite fashionable. I had a lot of fun with them until around 2010. By that point, so many smart mathematicians had become involved that my own contributions started seeming pointless. It was as if a few people had been pushing a snowball, and it had grown so big and started rolling so fast that I couldn’t keep up with it anymore.

So, I started looking around for something else to do. I followed my wife to Singapore and got a position at the Centre for Quantum Technologies for two years. At first I thought I’d switch to working on quantum technologies — that would make sense, right? But I’d become so concerned with environmental problems, especially global warming, that I decided to work on those. I want to find a way for mathematicians to help do something about what looks like an oncoming disaster. I’ve been spending a lot of time learning new stuff: climate physics, biology, chemistry, information theory and so on. It’s actually very exciting and rejuvenating.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

Some people say I was the first blogger, or ‘proto-blogger’. When I first went to U. C. Riverside I was very lonely but there was this new thing called the internet. The web didn’t exist then, so people chatted in ‘usenet newsgroups’ like sci.math and sci.physics. Eventually a flood of crackpots moved in, so I wound up moderating a group called sci.physics.research, meaning that I served as a bouncer who kicked out the crazy people. In 1993, I started an online column called This Week’s Finds in Mathematical Physics, where I’d summarize the cool papers I’d recently read, and explain math and physics. I’d post it on the newsgroups and people would post comments. It was like a blog, but before the modern technology of blogs existed. This was the most consistently fun aspect of my life for a long time.

When did you start blogging?

In 2006, when blogs were becoming popular, I joined some other folks and started The n-Category Café, a group blog with a focus on higher categories. I started posting links to This Week’s Finds in Mathematical Physics there. Later, in 2010, I started a blog called Azimuth focused on applications of math to environmental issues. That’s my main focus now. I try to keep this blog pretty serious. For fun random tidbits, I use Google+.

What is the story behind the name of your blog?

My wife helped me pick the name Azimuth. I considered things like Green Mathematics but decided they were all too limiting and didn’t quite fit what I had in mind. Azimuth sounds cool and most people don’t know exactly what it means, so it leaves open lots of possibilities. However, it comes from an Arabic word meaning “the ways,” which seems suitable for a blog that’s trying to explore solutions to the planet’s big problems.

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

Without the internet, I might not have found my favorite activity, which is explaining technical subjects in informal settings. I love teaching in classrooms, but it’s even more fun to blog, because I have no obligation to cover any particular material — I just write about whatever seems like the coolest thing in the universe at that particular moment.

What does the internet need more of?

We need to overthrow the dominance of journals that get scholars to write and referee papers for free and then charge people lots of money to read those papers. We need ways to publish our ideas in open-access forums that still give us the ‘reputation points’ needed for hiring, tenure and promotion.

Mathematicians on the web have…

more fun than mathematicians off the web.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise)

These days I have a bunch of interesting people in my Google+ circles and get a lot of good stuff through them. I’m also constantly scouring the web for whatever topic happens to interest me at the moment. Wikipedia is a great starting-point for mathematical investigations. And don’t forget books! I don’t have an electronic book reader, so I always keep a stack by the bed to learn more about whatever I’m interested in. Right now the stack consists of:

Judith Curry and Peter Webster’s Thermodynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans.

Stanislaw Ulam’s  Analogies Between Analogies.

Frank Drake’s Set Theory.

Akihiro Kanamori’s The Higher Infinite.

John Harte’s Maximum Entropy and Ecology.

Nichomachus the Pythagorean’s The Manual of Harmonics, translated by Flora Levin.

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Mathblogging.org — The Blog by mathblogging.org is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Mathematical Instruments: Laura McLay

December 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Mathematical Instruments.

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

This post is part of a series in which we introduce you to some of the math bloggers listed on our site. Note that the Instruments will be on holidays and will return in 3 weeks. But today:

Laura McLay — Punk Rock OR

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

Punk Rock Operations Research. I’m on twitter, Google+, and FaceBook.

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 professor of operations research with a PhD in Industrial Engineering. I am also a wife and mother to three girls. I grew up in suburban Chicago and live in Richmond, VA now. My background is evident in my blog posts.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

Honestly, after I started writing one (for the most part). Most of the OR blogs that I read did not exist when I started blogging. We have a wonderful community now.

When did you start blogging?

April 2007.

Why did you start?

My real motivation for starting a blog was to use it as a platform to somewhat selfishly evangelize students about operations research. I found it difficult to find students inclined to study OR in my department of Statistics and Operations Research in a college of humanities. I naively thought that if I started a blog, students at my university would read it and want to perform research with me and pursue an MS in operations research. That did not happen, but I have no regrets. I love blogging.

What do you write about?

Lots of things. Maintaining a blog is hard. I like to write about how the world can be improved through operations research and math modeling.  I am known for writing about women in the STEM fields. Whenever possible, I write about vampires, zombies, and werewolves (as they relate to operations research, of course!).

Mathematicians on the web have…

An imperative to improve mathematical and scientific literacy in the general public. If we don’t, someone will write an op-ed arguing to do away with algebra requirements in college (Oh wait, that already happened!).

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

I mostly read articles that my tweeps have recommended. And the Blog of Unnecessary Quotations Marks when I need a little pick-me-up.

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