Category Archives: blogging

My profile on Mathblogging

In case you haven’t heard enough from me lately, the Mathblogging.org blog is running my profile where I answer questions on blogging and the internet. This is part of their “Mathematical Instruments” series, profiling a different math blogger each time.


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

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

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

Click through for more.

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One year old

This blog is one year old today. It started out quietly, with about 3 page views per day in the early days, then 5-10 page views per day for the next three months or so. I was happy enough to keep it under the radar while I was figuring out what I was doing. One year down the road, I’m still working on that, but there’s a couple of things that I think are likely to become permanent.

In terms of choice of topics and tone of discourse, I try to keep it similar to a conversation over dinner at a conference where people don’t know each other very well. We might discuss mathematics, politics, books, movies, or other such, but our private lives are likely to be left private. The conversation will be polite, even if it becomes a little bit more animated when it turns to something people care about.

I’ve never intended for this to be a “math blog” in the sense that I would be writing about math and nothing but math. Come to think of it, I’ve written very few math expositions here so far. It takes me a long time to put together an exposition that I’m satisfied with, and, given that I’m always working on some exposition or other these days, including one that I should be writing right now, I can hardly undertake to write additional pieces on a blog. That goes for research posts, too. I’ve used this blog to post updates on research articles and will likely do it again in the future; on the other hand, I have no interest in writing about half-baked ideas and projects in early stages of gestation, which is where most of my projects are most of the time. Once something moves past those early stages, it usually gets finished reasonably quickly.

I would add that actually doing mathematics is only one part of what we do in our profession. Our other activities include teaching, supervision of junior personnel, securing funds for our research, evaluating other people’s work, administrative duties, and so on. I write about mathematics all the time, in research and expository articles. I’ve been doing that for many years. Meanwhile, our input on those other things tends to be solicited only sporadically and acted upon even less often. If we can make up for that imbalance in our blogs, at least to some extent, then why not?

But apart from that, mathematicians do have lives and interests outside of mathematics. We read books, watch movies, and follow political events just like most people do. We might do those things casually, but we might also take a deeper interest in something other than our job. I actually have a bit of a problem with the stereotype of a mathematician as a dork who solves equations for breakfast, differentiates functions for lunch, integrates them for dinner, and then takes one last square root of it at bedtime. I suppose that there may be people like that out there, but if that’s the assumption you make about me when we meet, then our conversation will not be off to a good start.

As I write this, I’m thinking of the discussion on Terry Tao’s blog provoked by a recent very mild post about politics. I’m not going to comment on Terry’s post; if I wanted to do so, I’d do it there. I do want to mention that some of his commenters felt very strongly that the political post was spoiling the mathematical purity of his blog. Duh. I’ve never wanted anybody to expect mathematical purity over here and I hope that I made that clear up front. In the case of politics, there’s an additional argument to be made. Politics may be irrelevant to mathematics per se, but it sure is relevant as hell to much of our professional lives, from research funding to faculty hiring to the size of our first-year calculus classes and the academic achievement level of students who sign up for them. And let’s not go into gender or minority issues right now. Or the problems that some academics have had with travelling to the U.S. in recent years.

It’s been a good experience overall. There have been a couple of incidents here and there, and yes, there is a reason why comment moderation is enabled. But it’s also been a lot of fun, in various ways. When I started out, I wasn’t sure at all that more than a handful of people would care to read my opinions on assorted things in life. But they do. If you’re reading this, thanks for coming here. Feel free to leave a comment with a link to your blog if you have one. I hope that you’ll visit again.

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Be careful what you wish for…

Because you might get it.

Photo taken at a Granville Street restaurant.

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Housekeeping notes

A short blogging break: I probably won’t have the time to write any substantial posts for another week or two. I have too much other work piling up right now.

I have also deleted the previous post – the only one so far in the “rant” category. I’ve decided, for various reasons, that I don’t want to have that category here.

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