Mathematical Instruments: Katie Steckles

October 12, 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:

Katie Steckles — The Aperiodical

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

I blog as part of the Aperiodical, a shared maths blogging outlet started by myself, Peter Rowlett and Christian Perfect. I’m on Twitter as @stecks, and also on G+ and FB. I’m terrifyingly easy to find on the internet.

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’m a maths communicator, which means I give talks about maths and perform at science festivals and basically anywhere people will pay me to come and do maths in front of a crowd. I started doing this during the latter stages of my pure maths PhD, which I finished last summer and have since been building up a freelance career. I believe maths is a fantastic subject and something people can really get a lot out of if they give it a fair chance. My work visiting schools is hopefully a way to help people realise it’s about more than the stuff you’re required to learn for your exams, and I try to take maths to places you wouldn’t expect to find it. Doing outreach is really rewarding but it’s not easy, as sometimes maths is seen as the horrible difficult boring subject (and don’t get me wrong, it can sometimes be all three) – there’s a problem with people’s general attitude and I’m hoping that will change, albeit slowly.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

As part of the stuff I’ve been doing I’ve found myself working with Peter Rowlett and other mathematical bloggers, and I love reading stuff that interests me so it’s a great thing. I know there’s far too much out there for me to read it all, and I partly regret not getting into it while an undergrad. I guess blogs weren’t so much of a thing back in those days (all of eight years ago!).

When did you start blogging?

I’ve had various blogs since I was young, on different topics – both personal and factual, and as I’m increasingly busy I found myself limited to one blog (which was mainly a round up of things I’d found online which interest me, and almost entirely comprised posts about robots and baking). I was asked by Peter and Christian if I was interested in joining a new thing they’d had an idea for, which at the time was slightly amorphous and was something to do with maths and the internet, which turned out to be the Aperiodical. I started writing posts there and making videos for it when the site was created, so maybe a few months ago, although we had our official launch on 25th April.

Why did you start?

I was intrigued by the idea of having a shared blogging outlet, as they’re both prolific maths bloggers and the idea was to also draw in other media such as video, and a regular feed of mathematical news posts, as well as inviting guest posts from other authors. Nothing quite like that already existed, and I was very excited to become part of it – we weren’t sure how much success we’d have, and we were realistic about the kind of audience we’d get. The launch was a huge success, and a couple of our posts have been mentioned/linked to elsewhere (not least on Radio 4, and on Hacker News, which has generated a huge amount of traffic). We get a fairly decent regular readership now, as well as having a bunch of people following on Twitter and via RSS, although who knows what will happen in the future.

What do you write about?

I tend to write posts about things I’ve found which I think people will find interesting, which could be anything from a toy or game to some nice application of maths I’ve seen. I also hope to make increasing numbers of videos, although time is a huge factor and we all have actual jobs, so it’s a wonder we have as much material on the site as we do! I write roundups of the monthly MathsJam event we have in Manchester, which I’m the organiser of, and occasionally persuade people to write guest posts. I also help with general editing and tweaking of the site. All the decisions we make are group decisions, so there’s a lot of emails flying around but it pretty much works.

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

The internet is an amazing and terrifying beast, and it’s bizarre to think that this time twenty years ago it was barely anything, and something nerds were playing with. Now, it’s such a big part of everything and it’s fantastic. Any information you could ever want is there. Not knowing something is no longer a valid excuse, ever, and it’s changed everything. It’s even on my phone now! I can look things up while waiting for a bus. And people are so much more connected – I have friends in Australia, and I’m kept more up-to-date with what they’re doing than my friends in the same city as me.

What does the internet need more of?

Politeness, courtesy, and thinking twice before you hit submit. I get quite riled up by the attitude that since it’s anonymous, anything goes. People can be rude and vicious and it’s completely unnecessary. Kids get bullied by their friends on Facebook, and they type things they’d never even dream of saying to their face. Not only that, but when something is typed, it’s so easy to misinterpret what you’re saying and even well-meant comments can become hurtful if the person’s not there to explain themselves. It’s a blunt instrument I guess, and not everyone sees the effect of what they’re doing.

Mathematicians on the web have…

… a fantastic way to communicate with each other and share things they love.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

Twitter is amazing. I follow just enough people that I have time to read it all, and it nicely fills my spare time (waiting for buses and so on). I can’t make specific follow recommendations, as it’s a personal thing, but I do recommend trying new people sometimes, as they can surprise you. And follow people you disagree with! It’s great to keep you grounded. I also have a lot of RSS feeds, so I read things like Ben Goldacre, various Guardian columnists, Cake Wrecks (of course) and a blog called Futility Closet which posts some lovely linguistic and mathematical oddities. I also read a couple of webcomics – Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Buttersafe and XKCD. Also, even having been finished for almost a year now, PhD Comics never fails to raise a smile, with its witty take on the experience of working in research.

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