On this 100th blog posting, I begin by giving a huge thank you to all the readers of The Intrepid Mathematician. As any blogger will tell you, we thrive on readership. I’ve had about 34,800 hits so far and am thrilled with the response. Please keep visiting and commenting, and share my posts with those in your networks.
I began blogging in March 2015, with a broad view to write about mathematics and its influence on popular culture. The experience of authoring blogs has been educational and also rewarding.
I’ve been asked why I blog by friends and colleagues. I think the most direct answer is that it provides a great forum for direct communication with large groups of people from all over the world. Having published technical, mathematical books and papers, the truth is that such works reach specialists. Even if a paper is widely cited, it may reach hundreds of people in the best case. The joke in mathematics is that if thirty people attend a lecture on your research, then that’s equivalent to Woodstock!
There is a rewarding sense of immediacy when a blog you wrote was viewed by hundreds and in some cases, thousands of people. Mathematics tends to incite strong reactions, often negative. My hope is that words like “beautiful”, “exciting”, or “engaging” are adjectives that will enter into common parlance soon when discussing mathematics.
Blogging also showcases my writing, which is a craft I have nurtured my entire adult life. Writing scientific articles, blogs, and creative works like fiction all require different muscle groups, although they interact. We must tell our stories when writing our academic papers, placing our work in the broader context of the literature. Creative works require the precision and forethought that goes into scientific writing. Blogging mixes creative and scientific writing. Different types of writing tap into the same creative source.
So many things inspire my blogging. New discoveries in mathematics and its applications are fun to discuss. For example, I’ve blogged about the Kelmans-Seymour conjecture, research on the algebraic topology of the connectome, or breakthroughs on the abc conjecture.
Since the New Year, I’ve been interviewing mathematicians. I find this very rewarding, and I’ve had excellent feedback. One of my aims to interview thought leaders and trailblazers. My subjects such as Maria Chudnovsky, Ken Ono, and Nassif Ghoussoub each have fascinating stories. The interviews give readers a chance to dive deeper than what you would find in a typical Wikipedia article. It’s also important, in my opinion, to have mathematicians interviewing other mathematicians. Frankly, I get them. Readers also can get a sense of these mathematicians as people, not just as thinkers. Our identities weave between our work, passion, loves, and family. That isn’t a weakness but a strength.
I am also interested in the impact of mathematics in art and culture. See my review of The Man Who Knew Infinity, or Donald Coxeter’s life and impact on math and art. Check out also my discussion of the social networks in movies and films.
Math blogs you should read
As I think back on my first hundred blogs, I reflect on the fact that there are so many amazing bloggers out there communicating mathematics, as well as blogs written by mathematicians. Here are a few that you should definitely check out.
Nassif Ghoussoub’s Piece of Mind. This blog was a major inspiration for starting The Intrepid Mathematician. Nassif doesn’t shy away from writing about governance issues and decisions impacting Canadian mathematicians and academics. As he told me in his interview, he realized his blog was getting traction when it was getting circulated by politicians in Ottawa.
Izabella Laba’s The Accidental Mathematician. There is something in the water at the UBC Mathematics Department (both Izabella and Nassif hail from there). Izabella takes a frank look at our discipline and the academy. She writes on gender issues in our field, which remain a major issue.
Terrence Tao’s What’s new. Tao is one of the world’s leading mathematicians. The blog is for researchers and students of mathematics. For example, his blog provides notes for his course this term on complex analysis. In an earlier blog, he focuses on connections between entropy compression and the Lovász Local Lemma.
AMS Blog on Math Blogs. Anna Haensch and Evelyn Lamb take readers through a timely discussion of mathematical topics written in an engaging way for the layperson (and us experts too). Lamb writes frequently for Scientific American on her blog Roots of Unity, and both Haensch and Lamb are active on Twitter. And they are also great for spotlighting my blog!
The next hundred blogs
I’m more convinced than ever in the power of blogs to influence people’s thinking about mathematics. My goal is to keep interviewing mathematicians, continue writing about cutting edge mathematical discoveries, and highlighting the impact of my subject in popular culture.
If you are a reader here, then you know I have great admiration for the late great David Bowie. Bowie’s words on his fiftieth birthday concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden are apt as I look towards the future:
“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”
I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I will keep on blogging.