How October 2016 Treated My Mathematics Blog


I do try to get these monthly readership review posts done close to the start of the month. I was busy the 1st of the month, though, and had to fit around the End 2016 Mathematics A To Z. And then I meant to set this to post on Thursday, since I didn’t have anything else going that day, and forgot.

Readership Numbers:

The number of page views declined again in October, part of a trend that’s been steady since June. There were only 907 views, down a slight amount from September’s 922 or more significantly from August’s 1002. I’ll find my way back above a thousand in a month if I can. A To Z months are usually pretty good ones, possibly because of all the fresh posts reminding people I exist.

The number of unique visitors dropped to 536. There had been 576 in September, but then there were only 531 unique visitors in August, if you believe that sort of thing. The number of likes was 115, exactly the same as in September and slightly up from August’s 107. The number of comments rose to 24, up from September’s 20 and August’s 16. That’s certainly been helped by people making requests for the End 2016 Mathematics A To Z. But that counts too.

Popular Posts:

The most popular post of the month was a surprise to me and dates back to September of 2012, incredibly. I suspect someone on a popular web site linked to it and I never suspected. And the Reading the Comics posts were popular as ever.

I’ve been trying to limit these most-popular posts to just five pieces. But How Mathematical Physics Works was the next piece to make the top ten and I am proud of it, so there.

Listing Countries:

Where did my readers come from in October? All over, but mostly, from 46 particular countries. Here’s the oddly popular list of them:

Country Readers
United States 466
United Kingdom 78
Philippines 55
India 52
Canada 32
Germany 27
Austria 23
Puerto Rico 19
Australia 14
France 12
Slovenia 10
Spain 9
Brazil 7
Netherlands 7
Italy 6
New Zealand 5
Singapore 5
Denmark 4
Sweden 4
Bulgaria 3
Poland 3
Serbia 3
Argentina 2
European Union 2
Indonesia 2
Norway 2
Bahamas 1
Belgium 1
Czech Republic 1 (**)
Estonia 1 (*)
Finland 1
Greece 1
Ireland 1
Israel 1
Jamaica 1
Japan 1
Mexico 1
Portugal 1 (*)
Russia 1
Saudi Arabia 1
Slovakia 1
South Africa 1
Ukraine 1
United Arab Emirates 1
Uruguay 1
Zambia 1

Estonia and Portugal are on two-month streaks as single-read countries. The Czech Republic’s on a three-month streak so. Nobody’s on a four-month streak, not yet.

Search Term Non-Poetry:

Once again it wasn’t a truly poetic sort of month. But it was one that taught me what people are looking for, and it’s comics about James Clerk Maxwell. Look at these queries:

  • comic strips of the scientist maxwell
  • comics trip of james clerk maxwell
  • comics about maxwell the scientist
  • james clerk maxwell comics trip
  • log 10 times 10 to the derivative of 10000
  • problems with vinyl lp with too many grooves
  • comics about integers
  • comic strip in advance algebra

I admit I don’t know why someone sees James Clerk Maxwell as a figure for a comics trip. He’s famous for the laws of electromagnetism, of course. Also for great work in thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. Also for color photography. And explaining how the rings of Saturn could work. And for working out the physics of truss bridges, which may sound boring but is important. Great subject for a biography. Just, a comic?

Counting Readers:

November sees the blog start with 42,250 page views, from 17,747 unique visitors if you can believe that. I’m surprised the mathematics blog still has a higher view count than my humor blog has, just now. That one’s consistently more popular; this one’s just been around longer.

WordPress says I started November with 626 followers, barely up from October’s 624. If you have wanted to follow me, there’s a button on the upper-right corner of the blog for that, at least until I change to a different theme. Also if you know a WordPress theme that would work better for the kind of blog I write let me know. I have a vague itch to change things around and that always precedes trouble. Also you can follow me on Twitter, @Nebusj, or check that out to make sure I’m not one of those people who somehow is hard to Twitter-read.

According to the “Insights” tab my readership’s largest on Sundays, which makes sense. I’ve standardized on Sundays for the Reading the Comics essays. That gets 18 percent of page views, slightly more than one in seven views. The most popular hour is again 6 pm, I assume Universal Time. 14 percent of page views come in that hour. That’s the same percentage as last month and it must reflect when my standard posting hour is.

How September 2016 Treated My Mathematics Blog


I put together another low-key, low-volume month in September. In trade, I got a low readership: my lowest in the past twelve months, according to WordPress, and less than a thousand readers for the first time since May. Well, that’s a lesson to me about something or other.

Readership Numbers:

So there were only 922 page views around here, down from August’s 1,002 and July’s 1,057. The number of distinct readers rose, at least, to 575. There had been only 531 in August. But there were 585 in July, which is the sort of way it goes.

The number of likes rose to 115, which is technically up from August’s 107. It’s well down from July’s 177. There were 20 comments in September, up from August’s 16 yet down from July’s 33. I think this mostly reflects how many fewer posts I’ve been publishing. There were just eleven original posts in August and September, compared to, for example, July’s boom of 17. I am thinking about doing a new A To Z round to close out the year, which if past performance is any indication would bring me all sorts of readers as well as make me spend every day writing, writing, writing and hoping for any kind of mathematics word that starts with ‘y’.

Popular Posts:

I’m not surprised that my most popular post for September was a Reading the Comics post. With hindsight I realize it’s almost perfectly engineered for reliable readership. It’s about something light but lets me, at least in principle, bring up the whole spectrum of mathematics. That said I am surprised two of the most popular posts were stepped deep into Freshman Calculus, threatening to be inaccessible to casual readers. But then both of those posts started out when online friends needed help with their calculus work, so maybe it better matches stuff people need to know. The most-read articles around here in September were:

Listing Countries:

Country Readers
United States 808
India 53
Canada 46
United Kingdom 34
New Zealand 24
Australia 23
Germany 18
Philippines 17
France 9
Argentina 8
Spain 7
Singapore 6
Brazil 6
Kenya 5
Switzerland 5
Austria 3
Denmark 3
Indonesia 3
Italy 3
Netherlands 3
South Africa 3
Uruguay 3
Bulgaria 2
Croatia 2
Cyprus 2
Greece 2
Israel 2
Japan 2
Malaysia 2
Mexico 2
Norway 2
Puerto Rico 2
Sweden 2
Turkey 2
Costa Rica 1
Czech Republic 1 (*)
Estonia 1
European Union 1
Hong Kong SAR China 1
Hungary 1
Mauritius 1
Poland 1
Portugal 1
Romania 1
Taiwan 1

Czech Republic was the only single-reader country last month, and no country’s on a two- or more-month single-reader streak. European Union dropped from three page views so I don’t know what they’re looking for that they aren’t finding here.

Search Term Non-Poetry:

Nothing all that trilling among the search terms, although someone’s on a James Clerk Maxwell kick. Among things that brought people here in September were:

  • how many grooves on a record
  • james clerk maxwell comics strip
  • james clerk maxwell comics
  • james clerk maxwell comics stript about scientiest
  • james clerk maxwell comics streip photos
  • james clerk maxwell comics script scientist
  • record groove width in micrometers
  • example of comics strip of maxwell

Definitely have to commission someone to draw a bunch of James Clerk Maxwell comics.

Counting Readers:

October starts with the mathematics blog at 41,318 page views from 17,189 recorded distinct visitors. (The first year or so of the blog WordPress didn’t keep track of distinct visitors, though, or at least didn’t tell us about them.)

WordPress’s “Insights” tab tells me the most popular day for reading stuff here is Sunday, with 18 percent of page views coming then. Since that’s the designated day for Reading the Comics posts that doesn’t surprise me. The most popular hour is 6 pm, which gets 14 percent of readers in. That must be because I’ve set 6 pm Universal Time as the standard moment when new posts should be published.

WordPress says I start October with 624 total followers, up modestly from September’s 614 base. There’s a button on the upper-right corner to follow this blog on WordPress. Below that is a button to follow this blog by e-mail. And if you’d like you can follow me on Twitter too, where I try to do more than just point out I’ve posted stuff here. But also to not post so often that you wonder if or when I rest.

How, Arguably, Very Slightly Less Well April 2016 Treated My Mathematics Blog


So now to my review of readership statistics. I’d expected another strong month. If I’ve learned anything it’s that posting a lot of stuff regularly encourages readers. I got to have another month with more than 1,000 readers here. In fact, there were a neat 1,500 page views, according to WordPress. This is a bit lower than March’s 1,557 page views. But remember that March had one more day than April did, and so had one more article. April had an average of fifty page views per post. March had 50.226. That’s no appreciable difference, I figure. February had 949 page views, although with only 14 articles. (And so about 68 page views per article posted, somehow.)

The number of unique visitors, as WordPress makes them out, was up though. April saw 757 visitors, a record around these parts. March only had 734, and February a relatively skimpy 538.

The measurements that seem to reflect reader engagement were ambiguous as ever. The number of likes was 345, technically up from March’s 320, and well above February’s 201. The number of comments, though, was 55, plummeting from March’s 84 and February’s 66. Part of that is I didn’t have any good controversies like the Continued Fractions post this month. But writing articles that encourage conversations, especially conversations between commenters (it can’t all be me chatting with individuals), has never been a strength of mine and I do need to ponder ways to improve that.

Proud as I am of the A To Z series, I must face the facts: none of the essays was in my top five most-read articles for April. One does sneak in at sixth place so I’ll list the top six articles instead. I’m going to suppose that the series pretty much balances out. That is, few of the articles have reason to read that one instead of another post. What are most popular are Reading the Comics posts, my trapezoids thing, and a couple of pointers to other people’s writing. Well, we can’t all be stars; someone has to be the starmaker. Most read in April:

There’s not any interesting search terms this month. Well, all right, there’s “what is an inversly [sic] propotional [sic] dice”. But I don’t know what the searcher was looking for there. I got the traditional appearance of “origin is the gateway to your entire gaming universe.” And I got asked “what makes a basketball tournament exciting?” I don’t know, but I was able to give at least a non-perfectly-ridiculous measure of how interesting one might be.

And for the always-popular listing of countries? As is usual for some reason, the United States sent me the greatest number of page views: 863. India was second at 80, and Canada third at 61. Austria was next at 45, and the United Kingdom and Germany tied for 42.

Single-reader countries were Belarus, Botswana, China, Dominican Republic, European Union, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Kuwait, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Réunion, Serbia, South Korea, and Switzerland. Again, European Union. I’ve said that before. China, European Union, and Greece were there last month too. The European Union is somehow on a five-month single-reader streak. At this point I have to think whoever is doing it is doing so on purpose and for a bit of a giggle.

The month begins with 36,256 page views total, from 14,273 recorded visitors. I’ve reportedly got 579 WordPress readers, up from the 573 at the start of April, despite putting the Follow This Blog icon in a more prominent location. Well, there were some nice stretches of people following each of several days in a row and that’s something. It also lists eleven followers by e-mail, up from ten last month. Again, it’s all something.

How February 2016 Treated My Mathematics Blog


Once again I spent a month not obsessing about the WordPress-gathered statistics day to day. It was somewhat soothing. But I wasn’t doing well in visiting and commenting on other people’s blogs, and I know that hurts my own readership. The economy of social media runs on sharing attention.

But it was still a decent month around here. The total number of page views dropped below a thousand again, to an official tally of 949. That’s below January’s 998 and December’s 954. It’s a higher readership per day, though. At this rate if February had 31 days there’d have been 1,014 page views. On the other hand, I published 14 things in February, compared to 13 in January. Is the proper correction not the length of the year but how much anyone reads any post?

Well, the number of unique visitors rose. It reached 538 in February, up from January’s 523 and December’s 449. This is a twelve-month high at least. I can’t find older statistics, but I imagine that’s got to be an all-time high, considering.

The number of likes held steady. Well, it dropped from 202 in January to 201 in February. I know better than to think that signifies anything. It’s down from December’s 245, but that’s surely staying right about average. The number of comments rose to 66, up from 53 in January and 56 in December. I think most of that would be people offering requests for the Leap Day Mathematics A To Z.

For a change my top-five articles of the month aren’t dominated by Reading the Comics essays. Well, number 1 and number 5 are, but in comparison that isn’t much at all. The rest of the top five is me pointing to other interesting stuff, which does imply that people like me as a curator more than they like me as an original popularizer. Well, the readership for “Ensembled”, getting at canonical and microcanonical ensembles and statistical mechanics, wasn’t bad. And the early returns for the Leap Day Mathematics A To Z are good too. They had a short time to be read. They were outranked by:

The roster of countries sending me readers was a bit odd this month. The United States was on top, as ever, with 562 page views going to it. I grant I’m in the United States, and post at times convenient to its schedule, and I write in an American idiom. But there’s a lot more English readers outside the United States than inside, and I rarely write about things of particular interest in the United States or disinterest outside. I’ve always wondered why my readership is so close to home.

And then India came in second this month, with 64 readers. I’m glad to see it fluttering up that high. I feel better being read that far from home. Canada, which is close to home but which I’ve only been to twice, changing planes, brought me 41 readers. Germany, which I’ve spent nearly two weeks in, sent 40. Hong Kong, which I’ve been to a fair number of times but always in changing airplanes, 33. I think this is the first time my top-five readership hasn’t been dominated by the United States and the British Commonwealth. (The United Kingdom was next in line, at 26 page views, and Australia 19 after that. And then there’s a whole bunch of countries in which English isn’t a primary language.)

Single-reader nations this time around were Argentina, Bangladesh, Barbados, Cambodia, European Union (not a nation), Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Korea, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, and Ukraine. Bangladesh, the European Union, the Netherlands, and Sweden were there last month too. The European Union is on a three-month streak but still isn’t a nation. And I still don’t know what WordPress even means by that. Singapore sent me three page views, down from twelve the month before. Poland didn’t send me any readers, which is shockingly unpopular even for me.

Search terms bringing people here? I’m happy to provide some. Among those that turned up:

  • how many teapizoids can you get in a rectangle (what gets me is there were multiple hits for this misspelling)
  • what is happening to the toby comic by corey pandolph? (and that’s interesting: after years of being in reruns Pandolph has started writing new installments. The strip has picked up “eight years later”, which seems like about how long Toby, Robot Satan has been idle. I’m glad to see this strip resume.)
  • origin is the gateway to your entire gaming universe. (and why wouldn’t it be?)
  • math theory penguins (I was with you up to the word `penguins’)
  • are any coins unfair (no! But coin tosses can be)
  • population charlotte nc 1975 (I’d tried interpolating what it might have been back then; I’d meant to do a series of essays about different ways to interpolate data, and might again someday)
  • true almost verywhere (not waffling about true or false: “almost everywhere” is a term of art with a precise meaning)

The month starts with 33,200 page views in total, from a recorded 12,782 distinct viewers. I’m tempted to give a prize to whoever logs number 33,333. WordPress credits me with 566 WordPress.com followers. If you’re not sure whether you’re a follower, well, there’ a “Follow Blog via Email” button over on the right side of the page. And I realize I’m not sure where they do put a “Follow Blog on WordPress” button for people who’re logged in to WordPress already. Maybe I need to worry about that. I’m also on Twitter, as @Nebusj, and I’d be happy with being followed there too.

Some More Mathematics Stuff To Read


And some more reasy reading, because, why not? First up is a new Twitter account from Chris Lusto (Lustomatical), a high school teacher with interest in Mathematical Twitter. He’s constructed the Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere Bot, which retweets postings of mathematics blogs. They’re drawn from his blogroll, and a set of posts comes up a couple of times per day. (I believe he’s running the bot manually, in case it starts malfunctioning, for now.) It could be a useful way to find something interesting to read, or if you’ve got your own mathematics blog, a way to let other folks know you want to be found interesting.

Also possibly of interest is Gregory Taylor’s Any ~Qs comic strip blog. Taylor is a high school teacher and an amateur cartoonist. He’s chosen the difficult task of drawing a comic about “math equations as people”. It’s always hard to do a narrowly focused web comic. You can see Taylor working out the challenges of writing and drawing so that both story and teaching purposes are clear. I would imagine, for example, people to giggle at least at “tangent pants” even if they’re not sure what a domain restriction would have to do with anything, or even necessarily mean. But it is neat to see someone trying to go beyond anthropomorphized numerals in a web comic. And, after all, Math With Bad Drawings has got the hang of it.

Finally, an article published in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, and which I found by some reference now lost to me. The essay, “Knots in the Nursery:(Cats) Cradle Song of James Clerk Maxwell”, is by Professor Daniel S Silver. It’s about the origins of knot theory, and particularly of a poem composed by James Clerk Maxwell. Knot theory was pioneered in the late 19th century by Peter Guthrie Tait. Maxwell is the fellow behind Maxwell’s Equations, the description of how electricity and magnetism propagate and affect one another. Maxwell’s also renowned in statistical mechanics circles for explaining, among other things, how the rings of Saturn could work. And it turns out he could write nice bits of doggerel, with references Silver usefully decodes. It’s worth reading for the mathematical-history content.

How October Treated My Mathematics Blog


So, that wasn’t as bad as September. Last month I began my review of readership with the sad news I’d lost about a fifth of my readers from August. I haven’t got them all back yet. But the number of page views did rise to 733 in October. It’s just a bit over September’s 708, but that’s an improvement. That’s a good trend. But I do notice there was a little readership rise between July and August, and then the bottom dropped out. And 733 is still fewer than the number of readers my humor blog got from just people trying to figure out what the heck is wrong with the comic strip Apartment 3-G. (Nothing is happening in Apartment 3-G and the rumor is the strip’s been cancelled.)

The number of unique visitors rose, from 381 to 405. That’s only the eighth-highest result of the past twelve months. But it is only a little below the twelve-month average. (If you’d like to know: the 12-month mean number of visitors was 419.55, and standard deviation 39.715, so there you go. The median was 415.)

The number of likes rose again, from September’s absolutely unpopular 188 to a tolerable 244. That’s a little below the twelve-month mean (266.91) and twelve-month median (259), although given the standard deviation is 107.71 that’s hardly anything off the average.

The number of comments rose to 47, which looks good compared to September’s 25, but is nothing compared to the glory days of August and its 95 and the like. That’s farther below the twelve-month mean of 68.9 and median of 64 (standard deviation of 30), but, eh. I’ll take signs of hope. I maybe need to publicize more of my better material, more often.

Countries sending me readers have been the United States with 387 page views, the United Kingdom with 55, the Canada with 48, the Austria with 33, and the Philippines with 25. India only offered fourteen page views; Singapore, nine. The European Union got listed with five.

Single-reader countries for October were Belgium, Czech Republic, Georgia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and Uruguay. Repeats from September on that list are Saudia Arabia and Uruguay. None of the countries are on a three-month streak.

Among the most popular posts the past month were, of course, Reading the Comics surveys. To avoid flooding the list of what’s popular I’ll just list the category for Comic Strips instead.

  1. Reading the Comics, an ongoing series.
  2. How Many Trapezoids I Can Draw which hasn’t made the top-five or top-ten in a couple months. Curious.
  3. The Set Tour, Part 6: One Big One Plus Some Rubble and I’m glad to see this series getting a little bit of love. I’m having more fun with this than I’ve had with anything since the Summer A To Z.
  4. Phase Equilibria and the usefulness of μ, a reblogged post that’s part of my attempt to get people to pay attention to statistical mechanics.
  5. The Kind Of Book That Makes Me Want To Refocus On Logic, talking about a book I liked. I should probably talk about books I like more.

The search terms were mostly the usual bunch: origin is the gateway to your entire gaming universe and otto soglow little king and how fast is earth spinning. Delighting me, although I haven’t got anything to answer it exactly, was +how to start a pinball league. I’ve picked up a couple things about how they work, but that’s kind of outside the mathematics field proper.

My Mathematics Blog’s July 2015 Statistics, Plus Their Implications


Start of the month, so, it’s time to review my readership numbers. July was not as busy a month as June. I expected that. With the wrap-up of the A To Z glossary there were fewer posts in July than in June, and one can expect people to come to read posts. There weren’t that many fewer — 24 posts in July, versus 28 in June — but every bit counts.

So the number of page views dropped from 1,051 in June to 863 in July. The number of unique visitors rose, though, from 367 up to 415. The 415 visitors equals that in May. Is this a matter of just fewer posts? Perhaps. The number of views per posting dropped from 37.5 in June to 36.0 in July; that seems near enough identical. The number of unique visitors per posting rose from 13.1 in June to 17.3 in July, though.

What makes this interesting is these ratios for May. That month had 936 views, 415 visitors, and a scant twelve posts published. That implies 78 views per post, and 34.6 viewers per post. This seems to suggest the best readership-per-effort involvement is not necessarily daily.

The number of Likes received was down, too, from 518 in June to 382 in July. That’s my second-best on record, though. The number of likes per posting dropped from 18.5 to 16.0, which still seems probably about the same. The May ratio was 21.6 likes per posting. The number of comments dropped insignificantly, from 114 in June to 100 in July. The comments-per-posting rose from 4.1 to 4.2, no way a meaningful change. Though, still, in May, with 84 comments and twelve posts, I had a comments-per-posting ratio of 7.

This might suggest I’m best off posting every other day, or maybe even every third day, rather than going for a daily or near-daily schedule.

The greatest number of visitors came as ever from the United States, with 502. Canada sent the next-greatest number, 61 viewers. The United Kingdom came in third at 41. Italy was fourth, at 39 views, and the Philippines 37. I’m glad to have these readers, though I don’t know what’s got me interested in Italy and the Philippines. India sent me 14 viewers, down from June’s 15. Nobody’s listed as being from the European Union, although individual countries within it have a bunch of readers.

Single-reader countries for July were: Albania, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Greece, Mexico, Nepal, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, and the United Arab Emirates. Czech Republic is the only country that was also a single-viewer country last month.

The most popular posts over July were, if we can trust WordPress’s statistics:

  1. Reading the Comics, April 20, 2015: History of Mathematics Edition
  2. Reading the Comics, July 4, 2015: Symbolic Curiosities Edition
  3. Reading the Comics, July 24, 2015: All The Popular Topics Are Here Edition
  4. Reading the Comics, July 19, 2015: Rerun Comics Edition
  5. A Summer 2015 Mathematics A To Z: tensor
  6. Lewis Carroll Tries Changing The Way You See Trigonometry
  7. A Summer 2015 Mathematics A To Z: ring

There’s no search term poetry again, alas, although a few things came up. Among them:

  • bloom county 2015 (something I don’t think I ever mentioned, but six people came here looking for it)
  • susan from between friends (Between Friends is one of the comic strips regularly featured around here)
  • origin is the gateway to your entire gaming universe.
  • comics strip for sum of difference of two binomials (are there any?)
  • chain rule card sort (not sure what this means, but I’m intrigued)
  • math statistics of the 80s (again, not sure what this means)

I start the month with a total of 26,734 views, and alongside that 1,946 comments. I expect the 2,000th comment to come sometime in August. I’m curious what it’ll be.

And then to remind people to read my blog, in a post on my blog. There’s this “Follow Blog via Email” link that, at least in the P2 Classic theme I’m using right now, is over on the upper right of the page. You can do that. If you have an RSS reader, https://nebusresearch.wordpress.com/feed/ will give you posts. https://nebusresearch.wordpress.com/comments/feed/ will give you comments, although that’s got to be a baffling feed. And my regular old Twitter account is @Nebusj. Thanks for existing and all that.

My Mathematics Blog Abbreviated Statistics, June 2015


So, that was a fairly successful month. For June this blog managed a record 1,051 pages viewed. That’s just above April’s high of 1,047, and is a nice rebound from May’s 936. I feel comfortable crediting this mostly to the number of articles I published in the month. Between the Mathematics A To Z and the rush of Reading The Comics posts, and a couple of reblogged or miscellaneous bits, June was my most prolific month: I had 28 articles. If I’d known how busy it was going to be I wouldn’t have skipped the first two Sundays. And i start the month at 25,871 total views.

It’s quite gratifying to get back above 1,000 for more than the obvious reasons. I’ve heard rumors — and I’m not sure where because most of my notes are on my not-yet-returned main computer — that WordPress somehow changed its statistics reporting so that mobile devices aren’t counted. That would explain a sudden drop in both my mathematics and humor blogs, and drops I heard reported from other readership-watching friends. It also implies many more readers out there, which is a happy thought.

Unfortunately because of my computer problems I can’t give reports on things like the number of visitors, or the views per visitor. I can get at WordPress’s old Dashboard statistics page, and that had been showing the number of unique visitors and views per visitor and all that. But on Firefox 3.6.16, and on Safari 5.0.6, this information isn’t displayed. I don’t know if they’ve removed it altogether from the Dashboard Statistics page in the hopes of driving people to their new, awful, statistics page or what. I also can’t find things like the number of likes, because that’s on the New Statistics page, which is inaccessible on browsers this old.

Worse, I can’t find the roster of countries that sent me viewers. I trust that when I get my main computer back, and can look at the horrible new statistics page, I’ll be able to fill that in, but for now — nothing. I’m sorry. I will provide these popular lists when I’m able.

I can say what the most popular posts were in June. As you might expect for a month dominated by the A-To-Z project, the five most popular posts were all Reading The Comics entries:

Finally after that some of the A To Z posts appear, with fallacy, and graph, and n-tuple the most popular of that collection.

Among the search terms bringing people here were:

  • real life problems involving laws of exponents comic strip (three people wanted them!)
  • if the circumference is 40,000,000 then what is the radius (why, one Earth-radius, of course) (approximately)
  • poster on mathematical diagram in the form of cartoon for ,7th class student
  • how to figure out what you need on a final to pass (you need to start sooner in the term)
  • how to count fish (count all the things which are not fish, and subtract that from the total number of all things, and there you go)
  • einstein vs pythagoras formula (do I have to take a side?)
  • origin is the gateway to your entire gaming universe.
  • big ben anthropomorphized (it’s not actually Big Ben, you know. The text is clear that it’s Big Ben’s Creature.)
  • wyoming rectangular most dilbert (are we having Zippy the Pinhead fanfiction yet?)

Sorry it’s an abbreviated report. Or, sry is abbrev rept, anyway. I’ll fill in what I can, when I can, and isn’t that true of all of us?

How May 2015 Treated My Mathematics Blog


For May 2015 I tried a new WordPress theme — P2 Classic — and I find I rather like it. Unfortunately it seems to be rubbish on mobile devices and I’m not WordPress Theme-equipped-enough to figure out how to fix that. I’m sorry, mobile readers. I’m honestly curious whether the theme change affected my readership, which was down appreciably over May.

According to WordPress, the number of pages viewed here dropped to 936 in May, down just over ten percent from April’s 1047 and also below March’s 1022. Perhaps the less-mobile-friendly theme was shooing people away. Maybe not, though: in March and April I’d posted 14 articles each, while in May there were a mere twelve. The number of views per post increased steadily, from 73 in March to just under 75 in April to 78 in May. I’m curious if this signifies anything. I may get some better idea next month. June should have at least 13 posts from the Mathematics A To Z gimmick, plus this statistics post, and there’ll surely be at least two Reading The Comics posts, or at least sixteen posts. And who knows what else I’ll feel like throwing in? It’ll be an interesting experiment at least.

Anyway, the number of unique visitors rose to 415 in May, up from April’s 389 but still below March’s 468. The number of views per visitor dropped to 2.26, far below April’s 2.68, but closer in line with March’s 2.18. And 2.26 is close to the normal count for this sort of thing.

The number of likes on posts dropped to 259. In April it was 296 likes and in March 265. That may just reflect the lower number of posts, though. Divide the number of likes by the number of posts and March saw an average of 18.9, April 21.14, and May 21.58. That’s all at least consistent, although there’s not much reason to suppose that only things from the current month were liked.

The number of comments recovered also. May saw 83 comments, up from April’s 64, but not quite back to March’s 93. That comes to, for May, 6.9 comments for each post, but that’s got to be counting links to other posts, including pingbacks and maybe the occasional reblogging. I’ve been getting chattier with folks around here, but not seven comments per post chatty.

June starts at 24,820 views, and 485 people following specifically through WordPress.

I’ve got a healthy number of popular posts the past month; all of these got at least 37 page views each. I cut off at 37 because that’s where the Trapezoids one came in and we already know that’s popular. More popular than that were:

I have the suspicion that comics fans are catching on, quietly, to all this stuff.

Now the countries report. The nations sending me at least twenty page views were the United States (476), the United Kingdom (85), Canada (65), Italy (53), and Austria (20).

Sending just a single reader were Belgium, Bulgaria, Colombia, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Romania, and Vietnam. Romania is on a three-month single-reader streak; Vietnam, two. India sent me a mere two readers, down from six last month. The European Union sent me three.

And among the interesting search terms this past month were:

  • origin is the gateway to your entire gaming universe.
  • how to do a cube box (the cube is easy enough, it’s getting the boxing gloves on that’s hard)
  • popeye “computer king” (Remember that comic?)
  • google can you show me in 1 trapezoid how many cat how many can you make of 2 (?, although I like the way Google is named at the start of the query, like someone on Next Generation summoning the computer)
  • plato “divided line” “arthur cayley” (I believe that mathematics comes in on the lower side of the upper half of Plato’s divided line)
  • where did negative numbers originate from

Someday I must work out that “origin is the gateway” thing.

How April 2015 Treated My Mathematics Blog


(I apologize if the formatting is messed up. For some reason preview is not working, and I will not be trying the new page for entering posts if I can at all help it. I will fix when I can, if it needs fixing.)

As it’s the start of the month I want to try understanding the readership of my blogs, as WordPress gives me statistics. It’s been a more confusing month than usual, though. One thing is easy to say: the number of pages read was 1,047, an all-time high around these parts for a single month. It’s up from 1,022 in March, and 859 in February. And it’s the second month in a row there’ve been more than a thousand readers. That part’s easy.

The number of visitors has dropped. It was down to 389 in April, from a record 468 in March and still-higher 407 in April. This is, if WordPress doesn’t lead me awry, my fifth-highest number of viewers. This does mean the number of views per visitor was my highest since June of 2013. The blog had 2.69 views per visitor, compared to 2.18 in March and 2.11 in February. It’s one of my highest views-per-visitor on record anyway. Perhaps people quite like what they see and are archive-binging. I approve of this. I’m curious why the number of readers dropped so, though, particularly when I look at my humor blog statistics (to be posted later).

I’m confident the readers are there, though. The number of likes on my mathematics blog was 297, up from March’s 265 and February’s 179. It’s the highest on record far as WordPress will tell me. So readers are more engaged, or else they’re clicking like from the WordPress Reader or an RSS feed. Neither gets counted as a page view or a visitor. That’s another easy part. The number of comments is down to 64, from March’s record 93, but March seems to have been an exceptional month. February had 56 comments so I’m not particularly baffled by April’s drop.

May starts out with 23,884 total views, and 472 people following specifically through WordPress.

It’s a truism that my most popular posts are the trapezoids one and the Reading The Comics posts, but for April that was incredibly true. Most popular the past thirty days were:

  1. How Many Trapezoids I Can Draw.
  2. Reading The Comics, April 10, 2015: Getting Into The Story Problem Edition.
  3. Reading The Comics, April 15, 2015: Tax Day Edition.
  4. Reading The Comics, April 20, 2015: History Of Mathematics Edition.
  5. Reading The Comics, March 31, 2015: Closing Out March Edition.

I am relieved that I started giving all these Comics posts their own individual “Edition” titles. Otherwise there’d be no way to tell them apart.

The nations sending me the most readers were, as ever, the United States (662), Canada (82), and the United Kingdom (47), with Slovenia once again strikingly high (36). Hong Kong came in with 24 readers, Italy 23, and Austria a mere 18. Elke Stangl’s had a busy month, I know.

This month’s single-reader countries were Czech Republic, Morocco, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Romania, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Romania’s the only one that sent me a single reader last month. India bounced back from five readers to six.

Among the search terms bringing people to me were no poems. Among the interesting phrases were:

  • what point is driving the area difference between two triangles (A good question!)
  • how do you say 1,898,600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (I almost never do.)
  • is julie larson still drawing the dinette set (Yes, to the best of my knowledge.)
  • jpe fast is earth spinning? (About once per day, although the answer can be surprisingly difficult to say! But also figure about 465 times the cosine of your latitude meters per second, roughly.)
  • origin is the gateway to your entire gaming universe. (Again, I don’t know what this means, and I’m a little scared to find out.)
  • i hate maths 2015 photos (Well, that just hurts.)
  • getting old teacher jokes (Again, that hurts, even if it’s not near my birthday.)
  • two trapezoids make a (This could be a poem, actually.)
  • how to draw 2 trapezoids (I’d never thought about that one. Shall have to consider writing it.)

I don’t know quite what it all means, other than that I need to write about comic strips and trapezoids more somehow.

How My Mathematics Blog Was Read, For January 2015


And after reaching 20,000 views on the final day of December, 2014, could I reach 21,000 views by the end of January? Probably I could have, but in point of fact I did not. I am not complaining, though: I finished the month with 20,956 page views all told, after a record 944 pages got viewed by somebody, somewhere, for some reason. This is a record high for me, going well past the 831 that had been the January 2013 and December 2014 (tied) record. And likely I’ll reach 21,000 in the next couple days anyway.

According to WordPress, this was read by 438 distinct visitors, reading 2.16 views per visitor on average. That isn’t quite a record: January 2013 remains my high count for visitors, at 473, but it’s still, all told, some pretty nice numbers especially considering I don’t think I had my best month of blog-writing. I can’t wait to get some interesting new topics in here for February and see that they interest absolutely nobody.

The new WordPress statistics page is still awful, don’t get me wrong, but it has been getting a little bit better, and it does offer some new data I couldn’t gather easily before. Among them: that in January 205 I received 197 likes overall — a high for the past twelvemonth, which is as far as I can figure out how to get it, and up from 128 in December — and 51 comments, up from December 29, and also a high for the twelvemonth.

The three countries sending me viewers were, once again, the big three of the United States (594), Canada (56), and the United Kingdom (52), with Austria sending in 32 viewers, and Germany and Argentina ending 22 each. And India, for a wonder sent me a noticeable-to-me 18 readers, although on a per capita basis that still isn’t very many, I admit.

There was a bumper crop of single-reader countries, though, up from last month’s six: Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Libya, Mexico, Paraguay, Slovakia, and the United Arab Emirates each found only one person viewing anything around here. Greece and Mexico are repeats from December.

This month’s most popular articles were mostly comic strip posts, although they were a pretty popular set; none of these had fewer than 35 views per, which feels high to me. The top posts of the last 30 days, then, were:

  1. Reading the Comics, January 6, 2015: First of the Year Edition, in which I included drawing a sloppy `2′ as a snoring `Z’ as somehow connected to mathematics.
  2. Reading the Comics, January 24, 2015: Many, But Not Complicated Edition, which includes an explanation for why margins of errors on surveys are always like three or four percent.
  3. Reading the Comics, January 11, 2015: Standard Genres And Bloom County Edition, in which I reveal my best guess for Jon Bon Jovi’s shorts size in the late 80s.
  4. 20,000: My Math Blog’s Statistics, because my narcissism is apparently quite popular?
  5. Reading the Comics, January 17, 2015: Finding Your Place Edition, where, again, I can flog that thing about a watch as a compass.
  6. How Many Trapezoids I Can Draw, which also reveals how many trapeziums I think are different in interesting ways.
  7. A bit more about Thomas Hobbes, and his attempt to redefine the very nature of mathematics, which didn’t succeed in quite the way he wanted.

Among the interesting search terms that brought people here the past month have been ([sic] on all of them):

  • science fiction and trapazoids (Somebody should totally write the definitive SFnal treatment of trapezoids, I agree.)
  • food. stotagre nebus (I feel strangely threatened by this.)
  • a group of student offer at least one of mathematics,physics, and statistcs , 14 of them offer mathematics, 12 offer physics,and 16 offer statistics.7 offer statistics and maths 6 offer maths and physics, 4 offer physics and statistics only, while 5 offer all the three subject (Help?)
  • hiw to draw diffrent trameziums
  • soglow otto radio (Pretty sure I used to listen to that back on WRSU in my undergrad days.)
  • if a calendar has two consecutive months with friday the 13th which would they be (February and March, in a non-bissextile — that is, non-leap — year)
  • how to measure a christmas tree made of triangles and trapeziums (I would use a tape measure, myself)

So if I would summarize January 2015 in my readership here, I would say: tramezium?

My Math Blog Statistics, November 2014


October 2014 was my fourth-best month in the mathematics blog here, if by “best” we mean “has a number of page views”, and second-best if by “best” we mean “has a number of unique visitors”. And now November 2014 has taken October’s place on both counts, by having bigger numbers for both page views and visitors, as WordPress reveals such things to me. Don’t tell October; that’d just hurt its feelings. Plus, I got to the 19,000th page view, and as of right now I’m sitting at 19,181; it’s conceivable I might reach my 20,000th viewer this month, though that would be a slight stretch.

But the total number of page views grew from 625 up to 674, and the total number of visitors from 323 to 366. The number of page views is the highest since May 2014 (751), although this is the greatest number of visitors since January 2014 (473), the second month when WordPress started revealing those numbers to us mere bloggers. I like the trends, though; since June the number of visitors has been growing at a pretty steady rate, although steadily enough I can’t say whether it’s an arithmetic or geometric progression. (In an arithmetic progression, the difference between two successive numbers is about constant, for example: 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40. In a geometric progression, the ratio between two successive numbers is about constant, for example: 10, 15, 23, 35, 53, 80, 120.) Views per visitor dropped from 1.93 to 1.84, although I’m not sure even that is a really significant difference.

The countries sending me the most readers were just about the same set as last month: the United States at 458; Canada recovering from a weak October with 27 viewers; Argentina at 20; Austria and the United Kingdom tied at 19; Australia at 17; Germany at 16 and Puerto Rico at 14.

Sending only one reader this month were: Belgium, Bermuda, Croatia, Estonia, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Italy, Lebanon, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, Oman, the Philippines, Romania, Singapore, South Korea, and Sweden. (Really, Singapore? I’m a little hurt. I used to live there.) The countries repeating that from October were Estonia, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden; Sweden’s going on three months with just a single reader each. I don’t know what’s got me only slightly read in Scandinavia and the Balkans.

My most-read articles for November were pretty heavily biased towards the comics, with a side interest in that Pythagorean triangle problem with an inscribed circle. Elke Stangl had wondered about the longevity of my most popular posts, and I was curious too, so I’m including in brackets a note about the number of days between the first and the last view which WordPress has on record. This isn’t a perfect measure of longevity, especially for the most recent posts, but it’s a start.

As ever there’s no good search term poetry, but among the things that brought people here were:

  • trapezoid
  • how many grooves are on one side of an lp record?
  • origin is the gateway to your entire gaming universe.
  • cauchy funny things done
  • trapezoid funny
  • yet another day with no plans to use algebra

Won’t lie; that last one feels a little personal. But the “origin is the gateway” thing keeps turning up and I don’t know why. I’d try to search for it but that’d just bring me back here, leaving me no more knowledgeable, wouldn’t it?

Reading The Comics, September 24, 2014: Explained In Class Edition


I’m a fan of early 20th century humorist Robert Benchley. You might not be yourself, but it’s rather likely that among the humorists you do like are a good number of people who are fans of his. He’s one of the people who shaped the modern American written-humor voice, and as such his writing hasn’t dated, the way that, for example, a 1920s comic strip will often seem to come from a completely different theory of what humor might be. Among Benchley’s better-remembered quotes, and one of those striking insights into humanity, not to mention the best productivity tip I’ve ever encountered, was something he dubbed the Benchley Principle: “Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at the moment.” One of the comics in today’s roundup of mathematics-themed comics brought the Benchley Principle to mind, and I mean to get to how it did and why.

Eric The Circle (by ‘Griffinetsabine’ this time) (September 18) steps again into the concerns of anthropomorphized shapes. It’s also got a charming-to-me mention of the trapezium, the geometric shape that’s going to give my mathematics blog whatever immortality it shall have.

Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes (September 20, rerun) dodged on me: I thought after the strip from the 19th that there’d be a fresh round of explanations of arithmetic, this time including imaginary numbers like “eleventeen” and “thirty-twelve” and the like. Not so. After some explanation of addition by Calvin’s Dad,
Spaceman Spiff would take up the task on the 22nd of smashing together Mysterio planets 6 and 5, which takes a little time to really get started, and finally sees the successful collision of the worlds. Let this serve as a reminder: translating a problem to a real-world application can be a fine way to understand what is wanted, but you have to make sure that in the translation you preserve the result you wanted from the calculation.

Joe has memorized the odds for various poker hands. Four times four, not so much.
Rick Detorie’s One Big Happy for the 21st of September, 2014. I confess ignorance as to whether these odds are accurate.

It’s Rick DeTorie’s One Big Happy (September 21) which brought the Benchley Principle to my mind. Here, Joe is shown to know extremely well the odds of poker hands, but to have no chance at having learned the multiplication table. It seems like something akin to Benchley’s Principle is at work here: Joe memorizing the times tables might be socially approved, but it isn’t what he wants to do, and that’s that. But inspiring the desire to know something is probably the one great challenge facing everyone who means to teach, isn’t it?

Jonathan Lemon’s Rabbits Against Magic (September 21) features a Möbius strip joke that I imagine was a good deal of fun to draw. The Möbius strip is one of those concepts that really catches the imagination, since it seems to defy intuition that something should have only the one side. I’m a little surprise that topology isn’t better-popularized, as it seems like it should be fairly accessible — you don’t need equations to get some surprising results, and you can draw pictures — but maybe I just don’t understand the field well enough to understand what’s difficult about bringing it to a mass audience.

Hector D. Cantu and Carlos Castellanos’s Baldo (September 23) tells a joke about percentages and students’ self-confidence about how good they are with “numbers”. In strict logic, yes, the number of people who say they are and who say they aren’t good at numbers should add up to something under 100 percent. But people don’t tend to be logically perfect, and are quite vulnerable to the way questions are framed, so the scenario is probably more plausible in the real world than the writer intended.

Steve Moore’s In The Bleachers (September 23) falls back on the most famous of all equations as representative of “something it takes a lot of intelligence to understand”.

My Math Blog Statistics, August 2014


So, August 2014: it’s been a month that brought some interesting threads into my writing here. It’s also had slightly longer gaps in my writing than I quite like, because I’d just not had the time to do as much writing as I hoped. But that leaves the question of how this affected my readership: are people still sticking around and do they like what they see?

The number of unique readers around here, according to WordPress, rose slightly, from 231 in July to 255 in August. This doesn’t compare favorably to numbers like the 315 visitors in May, but still, it’s an increase. The total number of page views dropped from 589 in July to 561 in August and don’t think that the last few days of the month I wasn’t tempted to hit refresh a bunch of times. Anyway, views per visitor dropped from 2.55 to 2.20, which seems to be closer to my long-term average. And at some point in the month — I failed to track when — I reached my 17,000th reader, and got up to 17,323 by the end of the month. If I’m really interesting this month I could hit 18,000 by the end of September.

The countries sending me the most readers were, in first place, the ever-unsurprising United States (345). Second place was Spain (36) which did take me by surprise, and Puerto Rico was third (30). The United Kingdom, Austria, and Canada came up next so at least that’s all familiar enough, and India sent me a nice round dozen readers. I got a single reader from each of Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Latvia, Mexico, Romania, Serbia, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand, and Venezuela. The only country that also sent me a single reader in July was Hong Kong (which also sent a lone reader in June and in May), and going back over last month’s post revealed that Spain and Puerto Rico were single-reader countries in July. I don’t know what I did to become more interesting there in August but I’ll try to keep it going.

The most popular articles in August were:

I fear I lack any good Search Term Poetry this month. Actually the biggest search terms have been pretty rote ones, eg:

  • trapezoid
  • barney and clyde carl friedrich comic
  • moment of inertia of cube around the longest diagonal
  • where do negative numbers come from
  • comic strip math cube of binomials

Actually, Gauss comic strips were searched for a lot. I’m sorry I don’t have more of them for folks, but have you ever tried to draw Gauss? I thought not. At least I had something relevant for the moment of inertia question even if I didn’t answer it completely.

In the Overlap between Logic, Fun, and Information


Since I do need to make up for my former ignorance of John Venn’s diagrams and how to use them, let me join in what looks early on like a massive Internet swarm of mentions of Venn. The Daily Nous, a philosophy-news blog, was my first hint that anything interesting was going on (as my love is a philosopher and is much more in tune with the profession than I am with mathematics), and I appreciate the way they describe Venn’s interesting properties. (Also, for me at least, that page recommends I read Dungeons and Dragons and Derrida, itself pointing to an installment of philosophy-based web comic Existentialist Comics, so you get a sense of how things go over there.)

https://twitter.com/saladinahmed/status/496148485092433920

And then a friend retweeted the above cartoon (available as T-shirt or hoodie), which does indeed parse as a Venn diagram if you take the left circle as representing “things with flat tails playing guitar-like instruments” and the right circle as representing “things with duck bills playing keyboard-like instruments”. Remember — my love is “very picky” about Venn diagram jokes — the intersection in a Venn diagram is not a blend of the things in the two contributing circles, but is rather, properly, something which belongs to both the groups of things.

https://twitter.com/mathshistory/status/496224786109198337

The 4th of is also William Rowan Hamilton’s birthday. He’s known for the discovery of quaternions, which are kind of to complex-valued numbers what complex-valued numbers are to the reals, but they’re harder to make a fun Google Doodle about. Quaternions are a pretty good way of representing rotations in a three-dimensional space, but that just looks like rotating stuff on the computer screen.

Daily Nous

John Venn, an English philosopher who spent much of his career at Cambridge, died in 1923, but if he were alive today he would totally be dead, as it is his 180th birthday. Venn was named after the Venn diagram, owing to the fact that as a child he was terrible at math but good at drawing circles, and so was not held back in 5th grade. In celebration of this philosopher’s birthday Google has put up a fun, interactive doodle — just for today. Check it out.

Note: all comments on this post must be in Venn Diagram form.

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July 2014 in Mathematics Blogging


We’ve finally reached the kalends of August so I can look back at the mathematics blog statistics for June and see how they changed in July. Mostly it’s a chance to name countries that had anybody come read entries here, which is strangely popular. I don’t know why.

Since I’d had 16,174 page views total at the start of July I figured I wasn’t going to cross the symbolically totally important 17,000 by the start of August and what do you know but I was right, I didn’t. I did have a satisfying 589 page views (for a total of 16,763), which doesn’t quite reach May’s heights but is a step up from June’s 492 views. The number of unique visitors as WordPress figures it was 231, up from June’s 194. That’s not an unusually large or small number of unique visitors for this year, and it keeps the views per visitor just about unchanged, 2.55 as opposed to June’s 2.54.

July’s most popular postings were mostly mathematics comics ones — well, they have the most reader-friendly hook after all, and often include a comic or two — but I’m gratified by what proved to be the month’s most popular since I like it too:

  1. To Build A Universe, and my simple toy version of an arbitrarily old universe. This builds on In A Really Old Universe and on What’s Going On In The Old Universe, and is followed by Lewis Carroll And My Playing With Universes, also some popular posts.
  2. Reading the Comics, July 3, 2014: Wulff and Morgenthaler Edition, I suppose because WuMo is a really popular comic strip these days.
  3. Reading the Comics, July 28, 2014: Homework in an Amusement Park Edition, I suppose because everybody likes amusement parks these days.
  4. Reading the Comics, July 24, 2014: Math Is Just Hard Stuff, Right? Edition, I suppose because people like thinking mathematics is hard these days.
  5. Some Things About Joseph Nebus, because I guess I had a sudden onset of being interesting?
  6. Reading the Comics, July 18, 2014: Summer Doldrums Edition, because summer gets to us all these days.

The countries sending me the most readers this month were the United States (369 views), the United Kingdom (43 views), and the Philippines (24 views). Australia, Austria, Canada, and Singapore turned up well too. Sending just a single viewer this month were Greece, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Norway, Puerto Rico, and Spain; Hong Kong and Japan were the only ones who did that in June, and for that matter May also. My Switzerland reader from June had a friend this past month.

Among the search terms that brought people to me this month:

  • comics strips for differential calculus
  • nebus on starwars
  • 82 % what do i need on my finalti get a c
  • what 2 monsters on monster legends make dark nebus

  • (this seems like an ominous search query somehow)
  • the 80s cartoon character who sees mathematics equations
  • starwars nebus
    (suddenly this Star Wars/Me connection seems ominous)
  • origin is the gateway to your entire gaming universe
    (I can’t argue with that)

Reading the Comics, July 28, 2014: Homework in an Amusement Park Edition


I don’t think my standards for mathematics content in comic strips are seriously lowering, but the strips do seem to be coming pretty often for the summer break. I admit I’m including one of these strips just because it lets me talk about something I saw at an amusement park, though. I have my weaknesses.

Harley Schwadron’s 9 to 5 (July 25) builds its joke around the ambiguity of saying a salary is six (or some other number) of figures, if you don’t specify what side of the decimal they’re on. That’s an ordinary enough gag, although the size of a number can itself be an interesting thing to know. The number of digits it takes to write a number down corresponds, roughly, with the logarithm of a number, and in the olden days a lot of computations depended on logarithms: multiplying two numbers is equivalent to adding their logarithms; dividing two numbers, subtracting their logarithms. And addition and subtraction are normally easier than multiplication and division. Similarly, raising one number to a power becomes multiplying one number by the logarithm of another, and multiplication is easier than exponentiation. So counting the number of digits in a number might be something anyway.

Steve Breen and Mike Thompson’s Grand Avenue (July 25) has the kids mention something as being “like going to an amusement park to do math homework”, which gives me a chance to share this incident. Last year my love and I were in the Cedar Point amusement park (in Sandusky, Ohio), and went to the coffee shop. We saw one guy sitting at a counter, with his laptop and a bunch of papers sprawled out, looking pretty much like we do when we’re grading papers, and we thought initially that it was so very sad that someone would be so busy at work that (we presumed) he couldn’t even really participate in the family expedition to the amusement park.

And then we remembered: not everybody lives a couple hours away from an amusement park. If we lived, say, fifteen minutes from a park we had season passes to, we’d certainly at least sometimes take our grading work to the park, so we could get it done in an environment we liked and reward ourselves for getting done with a couple roller coasters and maybe the Cedar Downs carousel (which is worth an entry around these parts anyway). To grade, anyway; I’d never have the courage to bring my laptop to the coffee shop. So I guess all I’m saying is, I have a context in which yes, I could imagine going to an amusement park to grade math homework at least.

Wulff and Morgenthaler Truth Facts (July 25) makes a Venn diagram joke in service of asserting that only people who don’t understand statistics would play the lottery. This is an understandable attitude of Wulff and Morgenthaler, and of many, many people who make the same claim. The expectation value — the amount you expect to win some amount, times the probability you will win that amount, minus the cost of the ticket — is negative for all but the most extremely oversized lottery payouts, and the most extremely oversized lottery payouts still give you odds of winning so tiny that you really aren’t hurting your chances by not buying a ticket. However, the smugness behind the attitude bothers me — I’m generally bothered by smugness — and jokes like this one contain the assumption that the only sensible way to live is a ruthless profit-and-loss calculation to life that even Jeremy Bentham might say is a bit much. For the typical person, buying a lottery ticket is a bit of a lark, a couple dollars of disposable income spent because, what the heck, it’s about what you’d spend on one and a third sodas and you aren’t that thirsty. Lottery pools with coworkers or friends make it a small but fun social activity, too. That something is a net loss of money does not mean it is necessarily foolish. (This isn’t to say it’s wise, either, but I’d generally like a little more sympathy for people’s minor bits of recreational foolishness.)

Marc Anderson’s Andertoons (July 27) does a spot of wordplay about the meaning of “aftermath”. I can’t think of much to say about this, so let me just mention that Florian Cajori’s A History of Mathematical Notations reports (section 201) that the + symbol for addition appears to trace from writing “et”, meaning and, a good deal and the letters merging together and simplifying from that. This seems plausible enough on its face, but it does cause me to reflect that the & symbol also is credited as a symbol born from writing “et” a lot. (Here, picture writing Et and letting the middle and lower horizontal strokes of the E merge with the cross bar and the lowest point of the t.)

Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County (July 27, rerun from, I believe, July of 1988) is one of the earliest appearances I can remember of the Grand Unification appearing in popular culture, certainly in comic strips. Unifications have a long and grand history in mathematics and physics in explaining things which look very different by the same principles, with the first to really draw attention probably being Descartes showing that algebra and geometry could be understood as a single thing, and problems difficult in one field could be easy in the other. In physics, the most thrilling unification was probably the explaining of electricity, magnetism, and light as the same thing in the 19th century; being able to explain many varied phenomena with some simple principles is just so compelling. General relativity shows that we can interpret accelerations and gravitation as the same thing; and in the late 20th century, physicists found that it’s possible to use a single framework to explain both electromagnetism and the forces that hold subatomic particles together and that break them apart.

It’s not yet known how to explain gravity and quantum mechanics in the same, coherent, frame. It’s generally assumed they can be reconciled, although I suppose there’s no logical reason they have to be. Finding a unification — or a proof they can’t be unified — would certainly be one of the great moments of mathematical physics.

The idea of the grand unification theory as an explanation for everything is … well, fair enough. A grand unification theory should be able to explain what particles in the universe exist, and what forces they use to interact, and from there it would seem like the rest of reality is details. Perhaps so, but it’s a long way to go from a simple starting point to explaining something as complicated as a penguin. I guess what I’m saying is I doubt Oliver would notice the non-existence of Opus in the first couple pages of his work.

Thom Bluemel’s Birdbrains (July 28) takes us back to the origin of numbers. It also makes me realize I don’t know what’s the first number that we know of people discovering. What I mean is, it seems likely that humans are just able to recognize a handful of numbers, like one and two and maybe up to six or so, based on how babies and animals can recognize something funny if the counts of small numbers of things don’t make sense. And larger numbers were certainly known to antiquity; probably the fact that numbers keep going on forever was known to antiquity. And some special numbers with interesting or difficult properties, like pi or the square root of two, were known so long ago we can’t say who discovered them. But then there are numbers like the Euler-Mascheroni constant, which are known and recognized as important things, and we can say reasonably well who discovered them. So what is the first number with a known discoverer?

Reading the Comics, June 11, 2014: Unsound Edition


I can tell the school year is getting near the end: it took a full week to get enough mathematics-themed comic strips to put together a useful bundle of them this time. I don’t know what I’m going to do this summer when there’s maybe two comic strips I can talk about per week and I have to go finding my own initiative to write about things.

Jef Mallet’s Frazz (June 6) is a pun strip, yeah, although it’s one that’s more or less legitimate for a word problem. The reason I have to say “more or less” is that it’s not clear to me whether, per Caulfield’s specification, the amount of ore lost across each Great Lake is three percent of the original cargo or three percent of the remaining cargo. But writing a word problem so that there’s only the one correct solution is a skill that needs development no less than solving word problems is, and probably if we imagine Caulfield grading he’d realize there was an ambiguity when a substantial number of of the papers make the opposite assumption to what he’d had in his mind.

Ruben Bolling’s Tom the Dancing Bug (June 6, and I believe it’s a rerun) steps into some of the philosophically heady waters that one gets into when you look seriously at probability, and that get outright silly when you mix omniscience into the mix. The Supreme Planner has worked out what he concludes to be a plan certain of success, but: does that actually mean one will succeed? Even if we assume that the Supreme Planner is able to successfully know and account for every factor which might affect his success — well, for a less criminal plan, consider: one is certain to toss heads at least once, if one flips a fair coin infinitely many times. And yet it would not actually be impossible to flip a fair coin infinitely many times and have it turn up tails every time. That something can have a probability of 1 (or 100%) of happening and nevertheless not happen — or equivalently, that something can have a probability of 0 (0%) of happening and still happen — is exactly analogous to how a concept can be true almost everywhere, that is, it can be true with exceptions that in some sense don’t matter. Ruben Bolling tosses in the troublesome notion of the multiverse, the idea that everything which might conceivably happen does happen “somewhere”, to make these impossible events all the more imminent. I’m impressed Bolling is able to touch on so much, with a taste of how unsettling the implications are, in a dozen panels and stay funny about it.

Enos cheats, badly, on his test.
Bud Grace’s The Piranha Club for the 9th of June, 2014.

Bud Grace’s The Piranha Club (June 9) gives us Enos cheating with perfectly appropriate formulas for a mathematics exam. I’m kind of surprised the Pythagorean Theorem would rate cheat-sheet knowledge, actually, as I thought that had reached the popular culture at least as well as Einstein’s E = mc2 had, although perhaps it’s reached it much as Einstein’s has, as a charming set of sounds without any particular meaning behind them. I admit my tendency in giving exams, too, has been to allow students to bring their own sheet of notes, or even to have open-book exams, on the grounds that I don’t really care whether they’ve memorized formulas and am more interested in whether they can find and apply the relevant formulas. But that doesn’t make me right; I agree there’s value in being able to identify what the important parts of the course are and to remember them well, and even more value in being able to figure out the area of a triangle or a trapezoid from thinking hard about the subject on your own.

Jason Poland’s Robbie and Bobbie (June 10) is looking for philosophy and mathematics majors, so, here’s hoping it’s found a couple more. The joke here is about the classification of logical arguments. A valid argument is one in which the conclusion does indeed follow from the premises according to the rules of deductive logic. A sound argument is a valid argument in which the premises are also true. The reason these aren’t exactly the same thing is that whether a conclusion follows from the premise depends on the structure of the argument; the content is irrelevant. This means we can do a great deal of work, reasoning out things which follow if we suppose that proposition A being true implies B is false, or that we know B and C cannot both be false, or whatnot. But this means we may fill in, Mad-Libs-style, whatever we like to those propositions and come away with some funny-sounding arguments.

So this is how we can have an argument that’s valid yet not sound. It is valid to say that, if baseball is a form of band organ always found in amusement parks, and if amusement parks are always found in the cubby-hole under my bathroom sink, then, baseball is always found in the cubby-hole under my bathroom sink. But as none of the premises going into that argument are true, the argument’s not sound, which is how you can have anything be “valid but not sound”. Identifying arguments that are valid but not sound is good for a couple questions on your logic exam, so, be ready for that.

Edison Lee fails to catch a ball because he miscalculates where it should land.
John Hambrock’s The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee, 11 June 2014.

John Hambrock’s The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee (June 11) has the brilliant yet annoying Edison trying to prove his genius by calculating precisely where the baseball will drop. This is a legitimate mathematics/physics problem, of course: one could argue that the modern history of mathematical physics comes from the study of falling balls, albeit more of cannonballs than baseballs. If there’s no air resistance and if gravity is uniform, the problem is easy and you get to show off your knowledge of parabolas. If gravity isn’t uniform, you have to show off your knowledge of ellipses. Either way, you can get into some fine differential equations work, and that work gets all the more impressive if you do have to pay attention to the fact that a ball moving through the air loses some of its speed to the air molecules. That said, it’s amazing that people are able to, in effect, work out approximate solutions to “where is this ball going” in their heads, not to mention to act on it and get to the roughly correct spot, lat least when they’ve had some practice.

Autocorrected Monkeys and Pulled Tea


The Twop Twips account on Twitter — I’m not sure how to characterize what it is exactly, but friends retweet it often enough — had the above advice about the infinite monkeys problem, and what seems to me correct advice that turning on autocorrect will get them to write the works of Shakespeare more quickly. And then John Kovaleski’s monkey-featuring comic strip Bo Nanas featured the infinite monkey problem today, so obviously I have to spend more time thinking of it.

It seems fair that monkeys with autocorrect will be more likely to hit a word than a monkey without will be. Let’s try something simpler than Shakespeare and just consider the chance of typing the word “the”, and to keep the numbers friendly let’s imagine that the keyboard has just the letters and a space bar. We’ll not care about punctuation or numbers; that’s what copy editors would be for, if anyone had been employed as a copy editor since 1996, when someone in the budgeting office discovered there was autocorrect.

Anyway, there’s 27 characters on this truncated keyboard, and if the monkeys were equally likely to hit any one of them, then, there’d be 27 times 27 times 27 — that is, 19,683 — different three-character strings they might hit. Exactly one of them is the desired word “the”. So, roughly, we would expect the monkey to get the word right one time in each 19,683 attempts at a three-character string. (We wouldn’t have to wait quite so long if we’ll accept the monkey as writing continuously and pluck out three characters in a row wherever they appear, but that’s more work than I feel like doing, and I doubt it would significantly change the qualitative results, of how much faster it’d be if autocorrect were on.)

But how many tries would be needed to hit a word that gets autocorrected to “the”? And here we get into the mysteries of the English language. I’d be surprised by a spell checker that couldn’t figure out “teh” probably means “the”. Similarly “hte” should get back to “the”. So we can suppose the five other permutations of the letters in “the” will be autocorrected. So there’s six different strings of the 19,683 possibilities that will get fixed to “the”. The monkey has one chance in 3280.5 of getting one of them and so, on average, the monkey can be expected to be right once in every 3281 attempts.

But there’s other typos possible: “thw” is probably just my finger slipping, and “ghe” isn’t too implausible either. At least my spell checker recognizes both as most likely meant to be “the”. Let’s suppose that a spell checker can get to the right word if any one letter is mistaken. This means that there are some 78 other three-character strings that would get fixed to “the”, for a total of 84 possible three-character strings which are either “the” or would get autocorrected to “the”. With that many, there’s one chance in a touch more than 234 that a three-character string will get corrected to “the”, and we have to wait, considering, not very long at all.

It gets better if two-character errors are allowed, but I can’t make myself believe that the spell check will turn “yje” into “the”, and that’s something which might be typed if you just had the right hand on the wrong keys. My checker hasn’t got any idea what “yje” is supposed to be anyway, so, one wrong letter is probably the limit.

Except. “tie” is one character wrong for “the” and no spell checker will protest “tie”. Similarly “she” and “thy” and a couple of other words. And it’d be a bit much to expect “t e” or “ he” to be turned back into “the” even though both are just the one keystroke off. And a spell checker would probably suppose that “tht” is a typo for “that”. It’s hard to guess how many of the one-character-off words will not actually be caught. Let’s say that maybe half the one-character-off words will be corrected to “the”; that’s still a pretty good 39 one-character misspellings, plus five permutations, plus the correct spelling or 45 candidate three-character strings for autocorrect to get. So our monkey has something like one chance in 450 of getting “the” in banging on the keyboard three times.

For four-letter words there are many more combinations — 531,441, if we just list the strings of our 27 allowed characters — but then there are more strings which would get autocorrected. Let’s say we want the string “thus”; there are 23 ways to arrange those letters in addition to the correct one. And there are 104 one-character-off strings; supposing that half of them will get us to “thus”, then, there’s 76 strings that get one to the desired “thus”. That’s a pretty dismal one chance in about 7,000 of typing one of them, unfortunately. Things get a little better if we suppose that some two-character errors are going to be corrected, although I can’t find one which my spell checker will accept right now, and if a single error and a transposition are viable.

With longer words yet there’s more chances for spell checker forgiveness: you can get pretty far off “accommodate” or “aneurysm” and still be saved by the spell checker, which is good for me as I last spelled “accommodate” correctly sometime in 1992, and I thought it looked wrong then.

So the conclusion has to be: you’ll get a bit of an improvement in speed by turning on autocorrect, for the obvious reason that you’re more likely to get one right out of 450 than you are to get one right out of 19,000. But it’s not going to help you very much; the number of ways to spell things so completely wrong that not even spell check can find you just grows far too rapidly to be helped. If I get a little bored I might work out the chance of getting a permutation-or-one-off for strings of different lengths.

And your monkey might be ill-served by autocorrect anyway. When I lived in Singapore I’d occasionally have teh tarik (“pulled tea”), black tea with sugar and milk tossed back and forth until it’s nice and frothy. It’s a fine drink but hard to write back home about because even if you get past the spell checker, the reader assumes the “teh” is a typo and mentally corrects for it. When this came up I’d include a ritual emphasis that I actually meant what I wrote, but you see the problem. Fortunately Shakespeare wrote relatively little about southeast Asian teas, but if you wanted to expand the infinite monkey problem to the problem of guiding tourists through Singapore, you’d have to turn the autocorrect off to have any hope of success.

Reading the Comics, June 4, 2014: Intro Algebra Edition


I’m not sure that there is a theme to the most recent mathematically-themed comic strips that I’ve seen, all from GoComics in the past week, but they put me in mind of the stuff encountered in learning algebra, so let’s run with that. It’s either that or I start making these “edition” titles into something absolutely and utterly meaningless, which could be.

Marc Anderson’s Andertoons (May 30) uses the classic setup of a board full of equation to indicate some serious, advanced thinking going on, and then puts in a cute animal twist on things. I don’t believe that the equation signifies anything, but I have to admit I’m not sure. It looks quite plausibly like something which might turn up in quantum mechanics (the “h” and “c” and lambda are awfully suggestive), so if Anderson made it up out of whole cloth he did an admirable job. If he didn’t make it up and someone recognizes it, please, let me know; I’m curious what it might be.

Marc Anderson reappears on the second of June has the classic reluctant student upset with the teacher who knew all along what x was. Knowledge of what x is is probably the source of most jokes about learning algebra, or maybe mathematics overall, and it’s amusing to me anyway that what we really care about is not what x is particularly — we don’t even do ourselves any harm if we call it some other letter, or for that matter an empty box — but learning how to figure out what values in the place of x would make the relationship true.

Jonathan Lemon’s Rabbits Against Magic (May 31) has the one-eyed rabbit Weenus doing miscellaneous arithmetic on the way to punning about things working out. I suppose to get to that punch line you have to either have mathematics or gym class as the topic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lemon’s done a version with those weight-lifting machines on screen. That’s not because I doubt his creativity, just that it’s the logical setup.

Eric Scott’s Back In The Day (June 2) has a pair of dinosaurs wondering about how many stars there are. Astronomy has always inspired mathematics. After one counts the number of stars one gets to wondering, how big the universe could be — Archimedes, classically, estimated the universe was about big enough to hold 1063 grains of sand — or how far away the sun might be — which the Ancient Greeks were able to estimate to the right order of magnitude on geometric grounds — and I imagine that looking deep into the sky can inspire the idea that the infinitely large and the infinitely small are at least things we can try to understand. Trying to count stars is a good start.

Steve Boreman’s Little Dog Lost (June 2) has a stick insect provide the excuse for some geometry puns.

Brian and Ron Boychuk’s The Chuckle Brothers (June 4) has a pie shop gag that I bet the Boychuks are kicking themselves for not having published back in mid-March.