Anniversary

I have been blogging for a year now.

It began in the troubled times for the London Mathematical Society when the members and the Council were evenly divided over whether to merge with the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications. As things hotted up, an anti-merger member of Council asked me to take over as administrator of the “Save the LMS” blog. I was happy to do this for the sake of friendship. When I looked at the blog, I found that WordPress were encouraging readers to start up a blog of their own. It seemed prudent for me to try this, so that I could make my initial mistakes in a more private way.

My first post was about open access publishing. I think I stand by what I said there. But this post also drew the only guest article so far, a response from Laci Babai.

Other early postings concerned the LMS debate, and recorded my efforts to get some kind of information into or out of various websites associated with either the LMS itself, or the “Save the LMS” blog (which I saw, from the start, as a forum for all shades of opinion, rather than being tainted with the reek of incense that one correspondent detected).

I never intended to continue. Somehow it has just happened.

I don’t know what others do, but I do as little editing as possible on-line. I write each posting off-line and view it as an HTML file locally, before copying and pasting it into the WordPress edit window. It probably says something about my style of public debate that these initial versions live in a directory called “rants”. Indeed, I have used it as a way of sounding off about various disturbing issues; but I try to mix this with mathematics, both expository and research.

A year seems like a good time to take stock, and perhaps decide that enough is enough. I am not sure about this. When the pop group Take That split up, it was stated in the press that counselling had to be provided for their distraught fans; at least I don’t have to worry about that. At present the blog typically gets between 50 and 200 views a day. That seems to me to be a remarkably large number. Since I have averaged just over one post per week, each post must be getting around 500 views on average. A lot for a piece of mathematics, but certainly not celebrity status!

The most popular topic, judged by responses, has been about typesetting mathematics, in particular the old tale that sans serif fonts are more easily readable by dyslexic students. I benefited greatly from people with far more knowledge than I, in getting information on this. As a result I was able to support a more reasoned policy for our department’s provision of course material. Thank you, all who contributed.

My more recent post on a probability paradox seems to have struck a chord too, and the debate on this is still continuing.

A recent post entitled Google VS Experts VS readers VS Bing by Bill Gasarch asked:

Will search engines ever be so good that they are better than asking experts or asking your readers? (In the future we will all have blogs and hence we will all have readers — though with FACEBOOK the future may be now. In the future we will all have 15 readers.)

Each of my posts draws two or three comments on average, typically one from someone out there and a reply from me. But mathematics blogs seem atypical among many I’ve looked at. Typically these draw many short comments along the lines “Awesome post!”. Anyone who runs a blog knows that there is no shortage of messages of this general type; most of them belong to the category more commonly known as spam. (The WordPress spam filter is very good, but occasionally I approve something that it had labelled as spam, usually because of some incongruity, such as someone confusing me with the film director James Cameron.) People typically comment on my postings only when they have something to add, either information or reasoned debate. That is fine by me!

For example, Dima included a solution by his student Nick Gravin to one of my problems about infinite hulls in a comment on the problem, in time for me to include it in my lectures on synchronization next month.

The picture at the top, part of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, has some mathematical connection. But it raises issues deserving a more serious discussion. It looks something like a tesselation of the plane by hexagons; but it is not very accurate. What is the relatioship between mathematics and the “real world”? Why does symmetry attract us, and why (and to what extent) does the symmetry have to be broken? One day I might get around to writing down my thoughts …

Finally, to the point of this post. Assuming that I continue for a bit longer, what should I do to improve things? All suggestions welcome, but the big question is: should I do something which I haven’t bothered with up to now, and categorise my posts? Of course, the statistics suggest that this question won’t draw many replies, so probably I will just have to make up my own mind about this.

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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10 Responses to Anniversary

  1. Stefan says:

    Awesome post!

    Well, all right, let me answer your question, with a question. Doesn’t google do a good enough job of categorization? If I want to refer back to something I read a while ago, a search engine will quickly lead me back to its source (incidentally, this doesn’t work for things like webcomics, which can be a nuisance). I hardly ever use the organizational effort people put into their website.

    If you want to take the easy way out, you could add some keywords, I believe.

  2. ahwingsecretagent says:

    I personally think that it would be a great shame if this blog were stopped and that from the few maths blogs that I regularly visit, this one seems to be updated most often and it has plenty of interesting material. On the other hand, it would probably be a good idea to have the posts categorised, so a particular type of posts can be found more easily.

  3. Ted Jones says:

    Awesome post!

    Also, happy anniversary. I just ran across your blog a few days ago. I can’t offer any suggestions, but I thought I’d take the opportunity to say hello and let you know after my heavy commenting on one of your recent posts that I’m not a long time reader.

    Thoughts of having my own blog have crossed my mind from time to time, but when they do, I always doubt that I’d stick it out for the long term. A year sounds like a long time to me! Good luck to you whatever you decide.

  4. Adam says:

    Hi Peter,

    I only discovered your blog a couple of months ago, but since then it has quickly become one of my favourites. A good mix of mathematics (but not too much mathematics! Many blogs I subscribe to are more like work than fun, and I have a whole pile of papers I’ve been meaning to read if I feel like working), discourse on issues around mathematics, and “other”.

    50-200 people a day is a lot of unhappy people if you stop! And unlike with Take That, we will not even have any solo careers to look forward to.

    I say keep up the good work!

  5. Thanks everyone – that is enough of a vote of confidence for me.

    As to tags, keywords, etc., I agree that Google will find what you want very efficiently, if you know it is there. I am a bit old-fashioned, and I think that what I will probably do (when time permits) is to produce an index page, which may be organised by categories.

  6. Keep it up! I posted a link to this on my Facebook page. Among my 860 friends there, many are in Mathematics or Science.

  7. Dima says:

    adding tags to posts would help people to locate and filter contents.
    Say, if you add the tag Sn to all posts on the symmetric group, then
    an url like cameroncounts.wordpress.com/tag/Sn
    would display all the posts with this tag…

    • What troubles me is: what if someone who would really like to know about the symmetric group stumbles on this website. How do they discover that there is some information for them here? Tags are part of the answer, but I think some kind of summary or index page might be helpful too.

      In any case, that is not going to get done now for a little while: my exam is tomorrow and my head will be down for a week!

      • Dima says:

        one can create “pages” (as opposed to “posts”); these are sort of static and can be used for creating summaries with links…

  8. Michael Giudici says:

    Hi Peter,

    I vote for you continue. Your blog provides a great mix of maths and things of concern to mathematicians. I have enjoyed many of your posts.

    Instead of tags, perhaps you could use categories to index things.

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