Monthly Archives: March 2014

What shall this blog be about? (I)

It seems to me that great mathematical writing is rare, and to be celebrated. It follows that pointing out great mathematical writing, as well as poor mathematical writing, could be a very useful function of this blog. So I propose this as one feature of the blog.

We can review books, blogs, articles, etc. Any mathematics in print is fair game. What should be the criteria by which we judge mathematics to be well-written or not? To some extent, the rules of basic English should apply. We should see punctuated equations, as per N. David Mermin, correct grammar and syntax, and consistent formatting. In addition to these low-level necessities, we should see careful definitions, a concern for the reader, a lively, interesting, engaging style, as well as clarity of expression.

One aspect of mathematical writing not often brought to the fore is the difference between research and scholarship, as mentioned in Morris Kline’s book Why the Professor Can’t Teach, to which I linked above. Research is coming up with new mathematical theorems, procedures, etc. Scholarship is organizing, codifying, and clarifying existing research. One quote from Kline’s book (which I quote loosely) is that “One good scholarly paper is worth a hundred research papers.” Having attempted to read a number of research papers, I can definitely say that the vast majority of them are exceptionally poorly written, tending to be esoteric for the sake of being esoteric, and are generally useless except for the ultra-specialist.

It was V. I. Arnold who wrote the following:

It is almost impossible for me to read contemporary mathematicians who, instead of saying “Petya washed his hands,” write simply: There is a $t_1 <0$ such that the image of $t_1$ under the natural mapping $t_1 \mapsto \x{Petya}(t_1)$ belongs the set of dirty hands, and a $t_{2}, t_{1}<t_{2}\le 0,$ such that the image of $t_2$ under the above-mentioned mapping belongs to the complement of the set defined in the preceding sentence.

This is exactly right. It is this sort of obfuscated “mathematicalese” that I would combat, and I would welcome fellow fighters in this regard.

Testing New MathJax Plugin

Testing the math delimiters: $$\int_{-\infty}^{\infty}e^{-x^2} \, dx= \sqrt{\pi}.$$ Success! We appear to have MathJax on the blog now. This will obviously greatly facilitate the posting of tutorials, or any discussion at all concerning math, as $\LaTeX$ is (mostly) available.

Testing: $A \; \x{implies} \;  B$. This means that my new command of \x{} is equivalent to \text{}, and works just fine.

Launch Post

Welcome to Math Help Blogs! As you can see in the subtitle, this blog is a companion to the Math Help Boards, an up-and-coming free math help website with the following unique characteristics:

1. Warm and welcoming atmosphere.

2. Distributed authority, with delegation. We have four different staff ranks, with great fluidity between ranks. We’ve had one user climb up all the way up from regular user to system administrator!

3. Completely spam-free, due to #2 above, as well as well-chosen anti-spam software such as Spam-O-Matic

4. Good teaching philosophy: we do not simply hand out the answers. We ask users to put forth effort and show us their work so far. Then we get them unstuck. This maximizes the teaching moment, and helps the student do the heavy lifting.

5. Highly active administration. There are four regular administrators, all of them active helping to improve the site. We are two years old, and with this level of sysadmin, you can bet we’ll be around for a long time!

With these factors in place, we have experienced steady growth from the get-go. We now have over 1600 users, almost 200 of which are active (have logged in in the past month), almost 10k threads, with over 44k posts. While these statistics may seem small compared with sites like the excellent Physics Forums, we are only two years old.

So much for Math Help Boards. What about Math Help Blogs? This blog exists to highlight events at Math Help Boards, as well as talk about mathematics and mathematics education in general, and possibly other topics as well. We’ll define ourselves as we go.

In the meantime, welcome to Math Help Blogs, and don’t neglect to check out Math Help Boards!