Peter Cameron's Blog



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.