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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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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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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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.

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Mathematical Instruments: Peter Rowlett

November 30, 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:

Peter Rowlett — Travels in a Mathematical World

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

My own blog is Travels in a Mathematical World. I also contribute to blogs at The Aperiodical, Second-Rate Minds and the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications’ blog “IMAMATHSBLOGGER” (see what they did there?).

I am on Twitter as @peterrowlett. I’m on Google+ too (though I use that much less frequently). I don’t have a Facebook account. You can also find me as one half of the Math/Maths Podcast.

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 from Nottingham in the UK and still live there. I grew up in a village in Nottinghamshire and took a mathematics degree at the University of Nottingham. Since graduating I’ve taken a Masters in computing and worked in various maths/stats education jobs. I’m very interested in the challenge of helping people understand something new about mathematics, whether this is teaching or ‘outreach’ (writing or talking), and aspire to be a lecturer.

When did you start blogging?

February 2008.

Why did you start?

I had started working for the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the UK professional body for mathematicians. My job was to travel around the UK talking to university students about mathematics and their careers. As a member-led organisation, I felt it was important that the members are able to find out about what I was doing, if they choose to, and blogging seemed to be a natural way to do this.

What do you write about?

Many of the early posts tracked my travels around the UK for the IMA, either talking about places I’d been or things that had happened to me. After a while I started releasing a podcast, also called Travels in a Mathematical World, and the blog held the shownotes for this. My ‘travels’ were always both literal and metaphorical, but latterly they have been more often the latter as I no longer work for the IMA, with posts about neat things I’ve seen online and stuff I’ve been thinking about.

Since April, Travels in a Mathematical World has become my ‘column’ on The Aperiodical. The Aperiodical aims to be a meeting-place for people who already know they like maths and would like to know more. We publish various columns, features, video and news. I have been contributing to The Aperiodical news feed, with short items covering news of interest to the mathematically-minded.

Second-Rate Minds is a kind of blogging experiment/practice for Samuel Hansen and I. We take turns to write a post that the other edits before it goes live. I’m afraid the posts aren’t as frequent there as I would like and it’s entirely my fault as I so rarely find time to write anything or edit what Samuel has written. We had a popular few posts and this puts the pressure on to write something excellent, rather than just messing around! We try to stick to a tight word limit because we think this is good practice. Theoretically, I’ve experimented with a piece giving a puzzle that’s useful for education, an opinion piece that I thought would get people going but really hasn’t, a same-day write-up of a press release and a short historical account.

Finally, I contribute to the IMA members’ blog IMAMATHSBLOGGER. This is still finding its feet but it has a list of contributors who write about things that may interest IMA members. I wrote a sort-of ramble through numerology and several posts giving brief accounts of IMA East Midlands Branch talks I had attended (the trick, of course, is to say something interesting without giving too much away – I don’t want to spoil the speaker’s talk!).

Mathematicians on the web have…

Plenty to read? I’m amazed by the volume of content that goes through the Mathblogging.org index page every day. I’d love to say I aspire to reading it all but really, there’s no way I’ll have time to catch up! And yet I meet mathematicians in the real world who are barely aware that mathematicians blog at all. Astonishing!

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

I really have very little time to regularly read anything. I keep an eye on Twitter and daily read one or more articles that people have posted, and I try to keep an eye on the news for The Aperiodical and Math/Maths through Twitter and a series of searches. I generally keep up with xkcd, though often in fits of two weeks at a time. I certainly try to read everything that goes through The Aperiodical, the writing Samuel puts on ACMEScience and Edmund Harriss’ Maxwell’s Demon. Inevitably, though, I fail to keep up. I like what Michael Lugo is doing with God plays dice and what Tony Mann is doing with Tony’s Maths. I’ve been trying to keep up with Keith Devlin’s MOOC experiment.

I read the most when I host a Carnival of Mathematics (new volunteer hosts welcome!). People send you their favourite blog posts and you have a decent excuse to take some time reading them!

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Mathematical Instruments: Peter Cameron’s Blog

November 24, 2012 § 2 Comments

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:

Peter Cameron

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

The blog is unimaginatively named “Peter Cameron’s Blog“, but I use the name Cameron Counts, taken from a novel by Richard Brautigan, “The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western”, one of whose heroes was called Cameron. His trademark was counting things.

I don’t do Twitter etc.; I am on Facebook only because I wanted to comment on something and found I had to join and then couldn’t unjoin. I never go there! I am a bit of a technophobe really: at my age, I don’t have to apologise for this. I do run another blog, qmdiscrete.wordpress.com, for the Centre for Discrete Mathematics at my university; and I have a personal web page which has some features of a blog (such as a “photo of the month” taken on one of my walks) at www.maths.qmul.ac.uk/~pjc.

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

I’m Australian, but moved to Britain when I was 21, and am still here at the age of 65. So I am a child of the 1960s, and have kept the liberal attitude that goes with that.

I have lived in East London for the last fifteen years, quite close to where I work. This is an excellent place to live: a vibrant urban community, and with excellent transport links for when I want to get away (as, for example, when the Olympic Games were on earlier this year).

I am the sort of mathematician who is not good at delving deep; I would rather find unexpected connections between apparently unrelated fields. One of my most cited papers connected up root systems (from the theory of Lie algebras) with graph spectra.

If you divide mathematicians into discrete and continuous (prickly or gooey, as Alan Watts said), I am definitely on the discrete side.

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

I will answer these three questions together, since it is all the same story. A few years ago the London Mathematical Society was in the middle of a heated debate over whether to merge with the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications. A group of mathematicians I respected were running a blog in support of one side of the debate; when things turned nasty and lawyers were called in, they (as officers of the society) had to take their hands off, and asked me to take over as an administrator of the blog. This was all entirely new to me, so I thought I would start up my own blog first, so I could make my mistakes in private. At that stage, I really had no idea what a blog was.

Of course, I found that it was quite addictive, and was a good way of letting off steam when the bosses had done something that really annoyed me, by having a public rant about it; so I have just kept going.

What do you write about?

More than half of what I write about is mathematics, mostly expository. If I discover a new piece of mathematics, I want to tell people about it; but I like to do expositions aimed at non-specialists, such as a series of a dozen posts about the symmetric groups. I find that these are among the most popular and long-lived of my posts; there is often one of the symmetric group series among my top ten.

As well as that, I write about the mechanics of teaching, the technology (one of my most popular posts was about how to use non-default LaTeX fonts in Beamer presentations), and the politics; and I am not averse to talking about my hobbies, such as walking, music, and poetry, from time to time.

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

Many things! One of the best things about the internet is that people I have never met, from all over the world, get in touch. Often these contacts result in meetings, joint papers, or invitations. But there are several people far away who have commented on my blog, and I regard as friends, as far as you can be friends with someone you haven’t met.

For example, the tagline on my blog, “Always busy counting, doubting every figured guess”, is the start of an abecedarian poem by JoAnne Growney; I get a warm feeling every time she posts a comment.

And there is no doubt that the internet makes mathematical collaboration much easier. I started research in the days when it was necessary to exchange letters with people in America or Australia; the letter would take a week or two and probably cross with one from my collaborator, so work was duplicated unnecessarily and everything went very slowly.

What does the internet need more of?

The problem with the internet is that content is growing faster than tools for dealing with it. Mathematicians need some permanence; our work doesn’t become obsolete for decades, maybe centuries if we are lucky. But if you search for a particular piece of content, recent papers tend to come up; they are maybe at the end of a long chain of citations from the one I am looking for.

Of course the search box will find anything on my blog, but how do you know what to look for? I have a table of contents which is meant to help fill this gap.

Mathematicians on the web have…

Most importantly, the arXiv. All the current debate about open-access and author-pays are largely irrelevant to mathematicians, since most recent papers I am looking for will be there.

It is a little hard to believe that in the early days of the web, not much more than 20 years ago, mathematicians were in the forefront of using it!

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

I have three sites I look at regularly:

  • Astronomy Picture of the Day (a feast for the eyes)
  • Diamond Geezer (a blogger who lives just down the road from me, and knows everything about what is going on in our part of London)
  • XKCD (another person I am sure I would get on with if we ever met)

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