mathblogging and poll-results

Mathblogging.org is a recent initiative and may well become the default starting place to check on the status of the mathematical blogosphere.

Handy, if you want to (re)populate your RSS-aggregator with interesting mathematical blogs, is their graphical presentation of (nearly) all math-blogs ordered by type : group blogs, individual researchers, teachers and educators, journalistic writers, communities, institutions and microblogging (twitter). Links to the last 7 posts are given so you can easily determine whether that particular blog is of interest to you.

The three people behind the project, Felix Breuer, Frederik von Heymann and Peter Krautzberger, welcome you to send them links to (micro)blogs they’ve missed. Surely, there must be a lot more mathematicians with a twitter-account than the few ones listed so far…

Even more convenient is their list of latest posts from their collection, ordered by date. I’ve put that page in my Bookmarks Bar the moment I discovered it! It would be nice, if they could provide an RSS-feed of this list, so that people could place it in their sidebar, replacing old-fashioned and useless blogrolls. The site does provide two feeds, but they are completely useless as they click through to empty pages…

While we’re on the topic of math-blogging, the results of the ‘What should we write about next?’-poll that ran the previous two days on the entry page. Of all people visiting that page, 2.6% left suggestions.

The vast majority (67%) wants more posts on noncommutative geometry. Most of you are craving for introductions (and motivation) accessible to undergraduates (as ‘it’s hard to find quality, updated information on this’). In particular, you want posts giving applications in mathematics (especially number theory), or explaining relationships between different approaches. One person knew exactly how I should go about to achieve the hoped-for accessibility : “As a rule, I’d take what you think would be just right for undergrads, and then trim it down a little more.”

Others want rather specialized posts, such as on ‘connection and parallel transport in noncommutative geometry’ or on ‘trees (per J-L. Loday, M. Aguiar, Connes/Kreimer renormalization (aka Butcher group)), or something completely other tree-related’.

Fortunately, some of you told me it was fine to write about ‘combinatorial games and cool nim stuff, finite simple groups, mathematical history, number theory, arithmetic geometry’, pushed me to go for ‘anything monstrous and moonshiney’ (as if I would know the secrets of the ‘connection between the Mathieu group M24 and the elliptic genus of K3’…) or wrote that ‘various algebraic geometry related posts are always welcome: posts like Mumford’s treasure map‘.

NeB : 7 years and now an iPad App

Exactly 7 years ago I wrote my first post. This blog wasn’t called NeB yet and it used pMachine, a then free blogging tool (later transformed into expression engine), rather than WordPress.

Over the years NeB survived three hardware-upgrades of ‘the Matrix’ (the webserver hosting it), more themes than I care to remember, and a couple of dramatic closure announcements…

But then we’re still here, soldiering on, still uncertain whether there’s a point to it, but grateful for tiny tokens of appreciation.

Such as this morning’s story: Chandan deemed it necessary to correct two spelling mistakes in a 2 year old Fun-math post on Weil and the Riemann hypothesis (also reposted on Neb here). Often there’s a story behind such sudden comments, and a quick check of MathOverflow revealed this answer and the comments following it.

I thank Ed Dean for linking to the Fun-post, Chandan for correcting the misspellings and Georges for the kind words. I agree with Georges that a cut&copy of a blogpost-quoted text does not require a link to that post (though it is always much appreciated). It is rewarding to see such old posts getting a second chance…

Above the Google Analytics graph of the visitors coming here via a mobile device (at most 5 on a good day…). Anticipating much more iPads around after tonights presents-session I’ve made NeB more accessible for iPods, iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices.

The first time you get here via your Mac-device of choice you’ll be given the option of saving NeB as an App. It has its own icon (lowest row middle, also the favicon of NeB) and flashy start-up screen.

Of course, the whole point trying to make NeB more readable for Mobile users you get an overview of the latest posts together with links to categories and tags and the number of comments. Sliding through you can read the post, optimized for the device.

I do hope you will use the two buttons at the end of each post, the first to share or save it and the second to leave a comment.

I wish you all a lot of mathematical (and other) fun in 2011 :: lieven.

Lists 2010 : StackExchange sites

One of the trends of 2010 was the proliferation of StackExchange sites. I guess by now most of us visit MathOverflow along with the arXiv daily. But, there are plenty of other StackExchange sites around that may be of interest to the mathematics-community :

“Opening a StackExchange site is damn hard. First you have to find at least 60 people interested in the site. Then, when this limit is reached, a large amount of people (in the hundreds, but it really depends on the reputation of each participant) must commit and promise to create momentum for the site, adding questions and answers. When this amount is reached, the site is open and stays in closed beta for seven days. During this time, the committers have to enrich the site so that the public beta (which starts after the first seven days) gets enough hits and participants to show a self-sustained community.” (quote from ForTheScience’s StackExchange sites proliferation, this post also contains a list of StackExchange-projects in almost every corner of Life)

The site keeping you up to date with StackExchange proposals and their progress is area51. Perhaps, you want to commit to some of these proposals

or simply browse around area51 until you find the ideal community for you to belong to…

WikiLeaks’ collateral damage : web-anarchy?

NeB’s web-stats are orders of magnitude out of normal behavior, something must be going on…

  • Spam filter : normally between 10 and 20 spam-comments are trapped. They are removed automatically every 14 days so I only look at them when someone complains a valid comment didn’t get through. This moment, there are 1007 spam-comments held (already 1020 by the time I post this).
  • Akismet-plugin : for those who don’t run a blog, Akismet is an extremely useful WordPress-plugin getting rid of most spam-comments (before entering the spam-filter). I must admit I don’t check Akismet-stats regularly but today the message reads : ‘Akismet has protected your site from 104,145 spam comments already’ (which is about 10% of all visits…).
  • Mail-notifications : this week my email-account is bombarded with spam-comments to approve. Usually there are 1 to 2 such comments a week, now about 20 a day. Part of the problem was that the Akismet-servers were obstructed earlier this week, but the problem persists.
  • Today’s stats show more than 4000 hits, 500 uniques. About 3 times average.

Do we all really need to get caught in the cross-fire between WikiLeaks- and government-hackers?

I have no intention to post my take on WikiLeaks, simply because it won’t be original. As to Assange’s problems with justice : until further evidence comes to light I’m with Naomi Wolf on this (thanks Kea for the link).

If NeB goes off-line for a while, you know why…

it’s about time to restart blogging when …

you get emails like this one :


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math & manic-depression, a Faustian bargain

In the wake of a colleague’s suicide and the suicide of three students, Matilde Marcolli gave an interesting and courageous talk at Caltech in April : The dark heart of our brightness: bipolar disorder and scientific creativity. Although these slides give a pretty good picture of the talk, if you can please take the time to watch it (the talk starts 44 minutes into the video).

Courageous because as the talk progresses, she gives more and more examples from her own experiences, thereby breaking the taboo surrounding the topic of bipolar mood disorder among scientists. Interesting because she raises a couple of valid points, well worth repeating.

We didn’t can see it coming

We are always baffled when someone we know commits suicide, especially if that person is extremely successful in his/her work. ‘(S)he was so full of activity!’, ‘We did not see it coming!’ etc. etc.

Matilde argues that if a person suffers from bipolar mood disorder (from mild forms to full-blown manic-depression), a condition quite common among scientists and certainly mathematicians, we can see it coming, if we look for the proper signals!

We, active scientists, are pretty good at hiding a down-period. We have collected an arsenal of tricks not to send off signals when we feel depressed, simply because it’s not considered cool behavior. On the other hand, in our manic phases, we are quite transparent because we like to show off our activity and creativity!

Matilde tells us to watch out for people behaving orders-of-magnitude out of their normal-mode behavior. Say, someone who normally posts one or two papers a year on the arXiv, suddenly posting 5 papers in one month. Or, someone going rarely to a conference, now spending a summer flying from one conference to the next. Or, someone not blogging for months, suddenly flooding you with new posts…

As scientists we are good at spotting such order-of-magnitude-out-behavior. So we can detect friends and colleagues going through a manic-phase and hence should always take such a person serious (and try to offer help) when they send out signals of distress.

Mood disorder, a Faustian bargain

The Faust legend :
“Despite his scholarly eminence, Faust is bored and disappointed. He decides to call on the Devil for further knowledge and magic powers with which to indulge all the pleasures of the world. In response, the Devil’s representative Mephistopheles appears. He makes a bargain with Faust: Mephistopheles will serve Faust with his magic powers for a term of years, but at the end of the term, the Devil will claim Faust’s soul and Faust will be eternally damned.”

Mathematicians suffering from mood disorder seldom see their condition as a menace, but rather as an advantage. They know they do their best and most creative work in short spells of intense activity during their manic phase and take the down-phase merely as a side effect. We fear that if we seek treatment, we may as well loose our creativity.

That is, like Faust, we indulge the pleasures of our magic powers during a manic-phase, knowing only too well that the devilish depression-phase may one day claim our life or mental sanity…