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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Welcome to the new mathblogging.org!

January 31, 2013 § 3 Comments

It’s been almost exactly a year since we presented a demo of how we envisioned the next stage of mathblogging.org at ScienceOnline 2012.

After many ups and downs in 2012, we decided to stop re-writing our old engine. It wasn’t easy to leave our own creation behind but we realized that we couldn’t bring you the quality we wanted to achieve. Instead, we were very lucky to find the folks over at ScienceSeeker.org. They provide their (amazing!) underlying software open source and help us on many other levels.  (But don’t worry, our old software will remain online at old.mathblogging.org and its code is on github.)

To celebrate ScienceOnline 2013, we’re very happy to announce the launch of the new and improved mathblogging.org!

Among our new features are:

  • Our editors! A group of dedicated bloggers who regularly share their favorite pieces, right on the front page — it’s like our Weekly Picks, only better!
  • A user system – register an account & claim your blog today, add comments to posts just like our editors do and have them tweeted right away.  And you can look forward to more features in the near future!
  • An easy way to add sites: just paste the link and we’ll do the rest.
  • A better search — easy to get to, easy to work with, easy to find stuff.
  • A robust API — to build personalized searches, feeds and whatever you can think of (with more in the making).
  • Moar social media!!11!eleventy!! — three new twitter accounts will give you the Editor Picks, the Notes and the firehose feed, with more to come in the future. Google+ and other platforms soon to follow.

Have fun with it and let us know how it goes. And above all:

Enjoy!

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.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.mathblogging.org.

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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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: Haggis the Sheep

December 14, 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:

Haggis the Sheep

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

1) Knot your average sheep…
2) What’s on my blackboard?
I’m on Twitter as @haggismaths.

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 live in Edinburgh with my partner-in-crime Julia Collins, who is the Maths Engagement Officer at the Edinburgh University maths department. We finished our PhD in Knot Theory last May and now spend most of our time doing science communication (public lectures, science festivals, school talks, art-science things) and research communication (i.e. telling the world about the great research going on at Edinburgh). Julia also does some undergraduate lecturing and I often make her put sheep-related questions in her problem sheets. :-)

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

I’m not sure how to answer this question.

When did you start blogging?

According to WordPress:
1) 25th May 2009
2) 21st June 2011

Why did you start?

1) I wanted to have a place where I could tell people about all the cool maths I learnt, the lovely mathsy people I met, ideas I had for maths communication and interesting places that I travelled to. One of my first posts was a rant about how one of the curators at the National Museum of Scotland told me that maths was boring, but usually my posts are more full of happiness than angriness.

2) Working in a maths department I’ve come to take it for granted that every day I will see blackboards filled with incomprehensible symbols, beautiful pictures and strange words. One day, after seeing a particularly nice picture on the board in my office, I decided that it was about time to share these works of art with the rest of the world!

What do you write about?

1) See previous answer! I write about any sort of interesting experience of seeing, hearing, doing or communicating maths. Often it’s about events I set up myself, such as the Edinburgh Mathsjam, school talks, science festivals or crafty workshops, but sometimes it’s about maths I see on TV or places I’ve travelled with unexpected maths (e.g. the Vatican in Rome). I’m open to suggestions on things to write about!

2) I post up photos of interesting black/whiteboards, sometimes taken by me around the Edinburgh maths department and sometimes sent in by people around the world. Underneath each picture I write a short caption of what the maths is about or a story behind the board itself. If you have a blackboard photo, please send it in to me! It doesn’t have to be a beautiful work of art – it can be a total mess of scribbles, so long as it means something interesting to you!

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

Without the internet, I doubt I would get recognised by random people I’ve never met before. That’s not bad going for a stuffed sheep. More seriously, there are a lot of great events happening to promote maths which I wouldn’t have heard of or been able to get involved with, and a huge number of wonderful maths enthusiasts I’d never have met. For example, the MathsJam community is very much held together by Twitter where we share our favourite puzzles and games every month.

What does the internet need more of?

People leaving comments on blogs. Seriously, I get over 100 views every day, and maybe 2 comments per blog post if I’m lucky. Say something, people!

Mathematicians on the web have…

Not enough of a presence. Whilst there is a good community of people promoting maths and science, I think there are not enough maths researchers out there who are willing to talk about what they’re working on or how it feels to be a mathematician. I know that research-level maths can often be very hard to explain, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

I love the web comics xkcd, Abstruse Goose and PhD Comics. I check up on the BBC News website a few times a day. Twitter – far too often! Richard Wiseman does a weekly puzzle (on Fridays) which are often worth a look. And the Aperiodical is a great new blog for keeping up to date with maths news and interesting articles. But mostly my web reading consists of whatever Twitter points me to!

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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: Guillermo Bautista

December 7, 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 some of the math bloggers listed on our site. Today:

Guillermo Bautista — Math&Multimedia and many more

Any places like Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc. we can find you on?

My main Twitter account is @jr_bautista. I have also several blogs and every blog has its own Twitter account. I am also 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 am from the Philippines. I have a BS in Computer Science and an M.A in Mathematics. I work at the UP NISMED at University of the Philippines (Diliman Campus). UP NISMED is involved in teacher trainings, curriculum materials development, and educational research. I specialize on the integration of technology in teaching mathematics.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

I know about mathematical blogs since 2003 I think.

When did you start blogging?

I think I started in 2003 when I was in the undergraduate. I had a blog in Friendster but it was not really a math blog. It was a blog with miscellany of topics and several math posts.

Why did you start?

I just want to write about my thoughts and share it with my friends.

What do you write about?

I write about school mathematics and technology in my Mathematics and Multimedia blog. I  also write about math appreciation in The Mathematical Palette. I explain mathematical proofs in Proofs from the Book.

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

Well, I would have wasted a lot of time and I wouldn’t have learned this much.

What does the internet need more of?

People who comment responsibly on controversial issues.

Mathematicians on the web have…

opened opportunities to a lot of non-technical people.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

I read Yahoo News, Science Daily, Reader’s Digest, Twitter, and Facebook Feeds.

Creative Commons License
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.

A short service announcement

December 4, 2012 § 1 Comment

While we have about 700 blogs in our database, we are happy that we get a few more every week! But if you have submitted a blog recently, you might be wondering why your submission didn’t show up yet. Let me try to convince you not to give up hope and to stick around for what is about to happen with mathblogging.org. (If you only have 2 more seconds to read this post, jump to the end now.)

One reason for delays we had to give repeatedly in the past was that we are only three volunteers, and our jobs sometimes too often keep us from doing the maintenance that the website and database need. We want to resolve this for good, and we think we have found just the way that will additionally improve what mathblogging.org has to offer.

When we started the website, we didn’t have a clear idea of what it should become; what we thought of can maybe be described as a phone-book for mathematical blogs. Moving forward, it became clear that just listing blogs alphabetically would not provide the service we wanted, so we started experimenting with the representation of the data we collect from the RSS-feeds of the blogs. But, not surprisingly, all our naive efforts in this direction (while well received) did not get half as much positive feedback as the editorial work that went into the weekly picks on this blog and the “hourly picks” on twitter.

Incidentally, the awesome people over at scienceblogging.org (now ScienceSeeker.org) went into a similar direction in rewriting their website from a simple list of blogs to a more dynamic collection with a lot of editorial aspects. And awesome as they are, they publish their SubjectSeeker-code under an open source license!

So we will move away from writing the code for mathblogging.org ourselves, and focus more on editorial challenges. This will also mean that we can have more editors!

At the moment we are busy setting up the new site, and making sure that as much of the old data as possible is transferred. If you are itching to find out what the new website will look and feel like, you can now take a look at the public beta-version! Be sure to let us know what you think about it.

On the downside, this unfortunately also means that right now we have even less time for maintenance of the current site.

We will restrain from giving any precise prediction as to when the new site goes officially up; this post is to let you know that we are still here, that mathblogging.org is not going to be abandoned, and to allow you a sneak-peak at the new design.

tl;dr: New website is coming, even if it looks like nothing is happening right now.

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