Update, January 2023

I had a blog once, right?

Long story short, I have been attending to other priorities. This career has not been great for my health: it was a matter of chronic nuisance issues rather than anything immediately life threatening, but nonetheless there came a time some years ago when I had to step back and recalibrate. The blog had to take a back seat to, for example, my actual paid job. The hiatus took longer than I had expected, for various reasons. But here we are in 2023, and I expect to get back to posting here on a more regular basis.

As some of you already know, I have had to cut back significantly on professional travel. I expected this to be a temporary adjustment, to be reversed in a few years. Then came the Covid pandemic, bringing widespread travel restrictions, safety concerns, and further deterioration of the already abysmal air travel experience. Everyone has their own cost-to-benefit calculation. If you are happy to get back to conference travel, I’m glad for you. But I do not expect that I will be able to do it often.

Which brings me to blogging. There’s been an explosion of online conferences and Zoom seminars in the last couple of years, and I’m very happy about that. I hope that we do not abandon those even as in-person conferences return in some measure. But my preferred medium is writing, and that’s how I would like to stay in touch with everybody. Twitter and Mastodon are great for short posts. There’s arXiv for actual math papers. For everything in between, I guess you still need a blog – which is why we are here.

Several posts on integer tilings and related questions are overdue and I have already started working on the first one. Other work is, hopefully, coming along. I will also come back to equity-related topics. Comments will remain closed on this blog. That did not work in the past and I have no reason to expect that it will work better this time. However, since this blog will have to replace in-person interactions to a certain extent, I will make sure that there are venues open for conversation. I’m still on Twitter. I have signed up for Mastodon, which so far feels a little bit like Google+ did, but let’s see. I have also set up a Discord server for math discussions. It allows longer posts and has good LaTeX support.

If you’ve visited this blog previously, you might notice a couple of tweaks. The theme I was using (Pilcrow) has been retired by WordPress, so I switched to a newer one. I also updated the widgets. Sadly, I have had to give up on keeping a blogroll. Too many of my links were outdated, too many blogs and sites have never been added. It’s much easier to just promote specific posts from other blogs on social media, and that’s what I will continue doing. I have also cleaned up the “categories” a little bit, and I’ve deleted some of the early “could have been a tweet” posts. (For example, posts whose only purpose was to link to a YouTube video that no longer exists.) There might be more tweaking when I get around to it, but this should do for now.

About the photo: I’ve found that the new format allows a “featured image” for each post. Of course, some posts will come with images related to the post content. I have decided that, for posts without such images, I will add a random photo I’ve taken, usually from somewhere in British Columbia. This time, you get a photo of Georgeson Island taken from Mayne Island.

On commenting, conversations, and epijournals

Earlier this week, I closed the comments on this blog. I was reading this post, by another blogger who shut down the comments at his place, and realized that I had wanted to do the same for some time. I really encourage you to read the entire post. This is not a matter of not keeping with the times (quite the opposite – I’ll get to it shortly), or of not having the right technical fixes for specific trolling problems. It’s about what conversations we want to have, when, where, and with whom – and when we’d rather walk out and do something else that’s more valuable.

In my own blogging experience, the feedback I get by email and in person has long been infinitely more valuable and insightful than most of the public comments I was getting here. There have been exceptions, and I’m grateful to those commenters, but there have also been entries where I deleted more comments than I approved. Instead of an attractive feature, it became a chore. And ultimately, this blog is not a community service that I am obliged to provide. I will not do it if I cannot enjoy it, and so changes had to be made.

The more I think about it, the more I agree with Dan Conover that open commenting for everyone might be on its way out as the default mode on the internet. Continue reading “On commenting, conversations, and epijournals”

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.

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.

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.