I Got Arithmetic Wrong, And Learned Something About Writing


I’ll get to the comics soon enough. Interesting me right now is that I made a mistake in my review of the July reading statistics around here. Naturally I want to fix my mistake. But I also thought some about why I thought this an interesting mistake to make. This got me to think a bit about story.

I had made a spreadsheet to work out twelve-month running averages. This for things like the number of page views, number of comments, and number of posts, and all that. Since it was easy to calculate, I also worked out the number of page views per posting. I’m convinced that the number of things I post is the factor I can most control in how well my stuff gets read. And then went on to the number of unique visitors per posting, comments per posting, and number of likes per posting. Fine enough, but I set up the spreadsheet wrong. Instead of dividing the number of unique visitors by the number-of-posts column, it divided by the views-per-post column. And the likes-per-post column divided the number of likes by the number of unique-visitors-per-post. And so on.

I’d like to say I noticed this failed a sanity check. 870 unique visitors for 11 posts, and I claim this to be 7.1 unique visitors per post? Not likely. And then left it in to see if anybody noticed, which of course they did not. No, I didn’t do that; I don’t do that sort of stunt except as a marked joke. Or after warning my class that the story problems might contain unreliable data and they’re expected to ask questions. I did notice the numbers made no sense while writing the statistics-review post for my humor blog, though.

So what do I find interesting about this? Not that I made the mistake. Everyone who works makes mistakes. That I did not notice the mistake is interesting. I can make excuses which of course I find reasonable and justifiable. They all amount to that I chose to do things besides think about what numbers I should expect, and that I did not edit my copy enough before publishing.

Why did nobody notice the mistake? One answer is that nobody read the post, which is plausible enough. WordPress claims the page has gotten 17 views (as of my writing this). My home page, which has the article at its top, has gotten 42 views as well. But a view and perusal are different things. Even if people read my outstanding prose for comprehension, were they reading the numbers? Close enough to notice the claimed numbers didn’t make sense?

My guess is they didn’t. I know when I read for pleasure I tend to accept numbers as things which are present but which don’t need my immediate attention. If the presented argument needs the numbers, I’ll go back and pay attention to whether they’re 7.1 or 79.1. I suspect many people are the same way.

Elmore Leonard famously offered the writing advice to leave out the parts people skip. But people seem to skip these numbers. One might say I skipped them too and I wrote them. This did not make the post unpopular, though. I don’t know why the WordPress readership blog is always a popular post, but it is.

It’s easy to suppose the post would be more popular if it had no numbers. But a readership statistics post without readership statistics? That’s obviously daft. Maybe the box charts and map of countries would be appreciated. Pictures are the other thing besides number of posts that’s within my control and that brings readers.

I think there’s something in the nature of stories going on here. A (nonfiction) narrative builds on facts. If you have none, you may have some fine writing, but you have no story. But a mere fact? We have a word for a bare fact isolated from any narrative, any story about its value: trivia. No one could ever care about the average number of unique viewers per posting around here over the past twelve months. Someone could care about whether this viewers-per-posting is rising or falling, or how fast. The exact numbers, the trivia, are nothing. And we notice this in reading, and accept that we will never care about them. It is the story which uses them that’s of interest, and that people are happy to see. It’s easy, even for a pop mathematics writer, to think that of course numbers are what matters. And they matter, but only a tiny bit. The numbers are there so that the words around them have something to be about. It’s a neat lesson to myself about what mathematics writing means to do.


The correct calculations by the way change the story a little. Not much. This seems weird at first. It supports my contention that the number of page views and unique visitors and comments and likes all scale with the number of posts made, though. A month with twice as many posts probably got about twice as many unique visitors.

I had thought the number of unique visitors per posting rose slightly. Not too much. This is right in kind, but wrong in scale. The twelve-month running average was 60.2 unique visitors per posting and in July there were 79.1. That’s above average enough to matter. I had thought the number of likes per posting went from a twelve-month average of 8.8 down to 6.4. In fact the average was 4.4 and it drifted down to 4.1, still a decline but less sharp of one. One that might not be significant at all. The number of comments per posting I thought had dropped from 3.6 on average to 3.3. In fact the average number of comments per posting had been 1.5, and in July it rose to 1.9. This is the only change in direction of any of these trends. But my suspicion is this is so slight a change that it’s indistinguishable from random fluctuations. Noise, as they say.

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How July 2019 Treated My Mathematics Blog


If I had regular readers, one might notice it’s pretty late in the month without my having reviewed readership around here for the past month. This is so. There’s good reason: the first week of August was mostly wiped out by my attending Pinburgh, the world’s largest pinball tournament, and related activities. This included four(!) amusement park visits in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania, for some reason, has many amusement parks and they’re all worth a visit.

That’s all time-consuming stuff, though. And it’s not stuff that I can write ahead of time. This offends me, since so much of the structure of these reviews is imposed by the list of what data I have available. I suppose I could do a fill-in-the-blanks template but … why?

Well, here’s the most basic stuff: how many things got views, and how many people came around, in July 2019?

Bar chart showing monthly readership for the last three and a half years. After several months of decline the views has leapt up again.
I know it’s dangerous for me to start making spreadsheets, but I’m confident it will be all right. There are times I’ve gotten over some statistic or other. For example, do you ever see me going on about views per visitor these days? I mean apart from this, right here. I’m sure I have better things to worry about, probably.

That’s … surprising. I had 11 posts in July, most of them Reading the Comics pieces. But this brought 1,356 page views, above a thousand for the first time since April, and the greatest number of page views since March. It’s even slightly above the twelve-month running average of 1330.6 views per month. There were 870 unique visitors in July, which is almost more than the total number of pages viewed in June. The 870 unique visitors are a fair bit above the twelve-month running average of 822.4 unique visitors per month. By the way, I put together a spreadsheet so I can more easily track twelve-month running averages, as well as averages-per-post.

This offers some information I find interesting. By this I mean it’s information I don’t know how to understand. In July there were 11 posts and, on average, 123.3 views per posting. This is not to say each July post got viewed, on average, 123.3 times. It’s that, roughly, every three days there were about 123 pages viewed from my whole catalogue. This average is in line with the twelve-month running average of 121.0 views per posting. It works out to an average 7.1 unique visitors per posting. That’s probably not significantly greater than the 6.7 unique visitors per posting over the previous twelve months.

There were 45 likes given to things in July. That’s down from the previous twelve-month average of 62.3 per month. There were 21 comments in July, basically the twelve-month average of 23.1 comments per month. This is 6.4 likes per posting, compared to the twelve-month average of 8.8. It’s also 3.3 comments per posting, which is basically the twelve-month average of 3.6. Incidentally, my twelve-month average had been 14.3 posts per month. This is helped by some A to Z sequences, which I haven’t yet done this year.

There may be something else helping my readership. Because of scheduling needs I’d put some of my big Reading the Comics posts to publish on Tuesday, rather than Sunday. I did read a site claiming that WordPress posts got the most readership when posted Tuesday through Thursday. I do not know the methodology of this research. Nor whether it’s still valid, since the post also talked about when Google+ posts were most effective. But this is the only thing I did all that different in July. Maybe I’ll keep that going another month or two and see if it makes a noticeable difference.

192 different posts got at least one page view in July. That’s up from the 158 in June and 163 in May. I don’t have twelve-month running averages for this. But here were the most popular posts:

I’d had 99 posts get a single view each, by the way.

Mercator-style map of the world with the United States in darkest red, and pink regions for most of North America, Europe, and South Asia, plus Australia and a about half of South America.
I admit I’m disappointed to not have any Iceland readers, but since my dad visited Iceland in June and not July I suppose that’s to be expected.

WordPress tells me that 64 countries or country-like entities sent me at least a single reader in July. 54 had in June and 61 in May. There were 17 single-reader countries for the second month in a row. There had been 16 in May. The roster of countries? It’s this:

Country Readers
United States 791
Philippines 103
United Kingdom 75
India 64
Canada 37
Australia 34
Italy 18
Brazil 16
Germany 16
Singapore 15
South Africa 15
France 10
Hong Kong SAR China 9
Malaysia 9
Denmark 8
Colombia 7
Ireland 7
Hungary 6
Mexico 6
Pakistan 6
Taiwan 6
Thailand 6
Argentina 5
Spain 5
Sweden 5
Puerto Rico 4
Switzerland 4
United Arab Emirates 4
Finland 3
Greece 3
Kenya 3
Netherlands 3
Nigeria 3
Poland 3
Russia 3
Slovenia 3
Tanzania 3
Ukraine 3
Bangladesh 2
Belgium 2
Ethiopia 2
Japan 2
Norway 2
Slovakia 2
South Korea 2
Sri Lanka 2
Turkey 2
Botswana 1
Burundi 1
China 1
Costa Rica 1
Czech Republic 1
Egypt 1 (*)
European Union 1
Fiji 1
Guam 1
Israel 1 (*)
Latvia 1
Macedonia 1
Nepal 1
New Zealand 1
Saudi Arabia 1
Serbia 1
Vietnam 1 (**)

Egypt and Israel were single-reader countries in June. Vietnam’s been a single-reader country two months running. I’m surprised to have so few New Zealand readers. And I continue to wonder if the Philippines aren’t reading me by some mistake. Again, I’m not one to turn away readers. It’s just that I write a blog here that’s very steeped in contemporary United States culture and I’m surprised anyone else would me relevant.


By the start of August I had published 79 posts on the year, with a total of 77,108 words. 9,656 of those words were published in July. That’s an average of 878 words per post in July. It’s an average 976 words per post for all of 2019 so far. At the start of July my average post for the year had been 992 words.

For 2019 through the start of August I’d recorded 348 likes, an average of 4.4 likes per posting. That’s slightly down from the start of July’s 4.5 likes per posting. There’d been 136 comments recorded, an average of 1.7 comments per posting. That’s an increase from the average 1.5 comments per posting logged at the start of July. But that count includes some pingbacks, the bits where one post refers to another.

As of the start of August I’ve posted 1,281 things to this blog. They had recorded 81,223 page views, from a logged 41,759 unique visitors.

If you’d like to be a regular reader I’d be glad to have you. There’s a “Follow Nebusresearch” button in the upper right corner of this page. Clicking it will add my posts to your WordPress Reader. If you don’t want to read through WordPress, you can use any RSS reader you like. The feed is https://nebusresearch.wordpress.com/feed/ and please use it.

I’m @nebusj on Twitter, and each post gets an announcement there. It also gets announcements of my humor blog’s posts. Those might not be to your taste, but, you don’t know for sure until you read some. And I do at least try to start the month with rabbit pictures.

How July 2018 Treated My Mathematics Blog


July 2018 was another month in which stuff got in the way of my plans. I know it seems like I’m always apologizing for that. But I tell you truly: stuff keeps getting in the way of my plans. I could keep up the most essential stuff, the Reading the Comics posts. But bigger projects — I may as well stop being coy; I’m hoping to do another A to Z this year — kept getting lost under daily stuff. This includes pet health problems. I’ll leave it at that because they were sad ones.

But let’s see what these strained circumstances did for my readership, such as it was.

July 2018, views: 1,058. Visitors: 668. Views per visitor: 1.58. Posts published: 12.
My WordPress.com statistics report for July 2018 and the months leading up to that.

OK. Spent another month at above a thousand page views, which is a nice threshold. There were 1,058 pages looked at around here in July, down from June’s 1,077 and May’s 1,274. This is three months in a row I’ve had twelve posts, most of them Reading the Comics stuff. This goes to support the hypothesis that the thing most in my control that affects my readership is the number of things I write. There were 668 unique visitors, down a little from June’s 681 and a fair bit from May’s 837. The number of likes plummeted once again, to a mere 37. It had been 94 in June and 73 in May. But that’s still a drop.

And it hurts a bit. I think I’m doing much better Reading the Comics posts than I used to. I credit the discovery that GoComics.com links aren’t as secure as I had thought. If I’m going to include the image of every comic strip I talk about, I want to have a more substantive discussion. Reprinting strips that I don’t have the copyright to is fair use, of course, in that I’m using them for educational purpose. But making sure that I have a deeper discussion based on the strip makes me feel more secure in my use.

At least the comments held steady, with 28 of them over the month. That’s down from June’s 30, but that’s not a real difference. May saw only 17 comments. And it’s pretty good to have that many comments. Pet issues and other obligations had me spend a week and a half just checking that nothing had exploded. (It didn’t. I’ve never had something explode around here.)

And what was popular around here? One perennial, some comic strip stuff, and a post I am delighted got some attention:

There were a large number of views of the record-grooves post. But they weren’t particularly concentrated any one day or week. I think it might have reached that point where it’s Google-ranked highly enough to turn up as an answer to people’s query. I’m always embarrassed when my self-examination posts are among the most popular stuff I write. But if I view them as concentrating the stuff my readers think is particularly important, well, that’s all right then. Maybe I should do more regular recaps of what’s been popular lately. Could fill that late-in-the-week content hole.

But the important thing is I’m delighted people are reading about my prosthaphaeretic rule for finding square roots. I’m sure that it’s an old trick. And it’s not at all practical, not anymore. But I did notice it sitting there, waiting for me to uncover. That was fun.

Now to the list of countries sending me readers: will it include the United States up top?

Country Readers
United States 669
United Kingdom 110
India 49
Philippines 42
Australia 25
Canada 23
Slovenia 10
South Africa 10
Germany 9
France 7
Hong Kong SAR China 6
Kenya 6
Brazil 5
Mexico 5
Netherlands 5
New Zealand 5
Spain 5
Macau SAR China 4
Malaysia 4
Pakistan 4
Puerto Rico 4
Argentina 3
Belgium 3
Italy 3
Japan 3
Singapore 3
Chile 2
Guernsey 2
Indonesia 2
Mauritius 2
Norway 2
Poland 2
Portugal 2
Sweden 2
Tanzania 2
Turkey 2
Austria 1
Bangladesh 1
Brunei 1 (**)
Bulgaria 1
Denmark 1
Hungary 1
Ireland 1
Israel 1
Laos 1
Peru 1
Romania 1
Serbia 1 (****)
Slovakia 1 (*)
South Korea 1 (**)
Venezuela 1
Vietnam 1

There were 52 countries sending me readers in July, down from 55 in June and 58 in May. There were 16 single-reader countries, down from 19 in June and 22 in May. Slovakia’s been on that list two months in a row. Brunei and South Korea three months now. Serbia’s on its fifth month in a row on the single-reader list. I hope they like me a little bit enough. It’s a rare month to have no countries with an & in their name, like Trinidad & Tobago. Hm.

If the Insights panel is correct, I started August viewed 64,958 times by 31,688 logged unique visitors. I’d finished with 90 posts on the year, gathering a total of 232 comments and 572 likes. That’s an average of 2.6 comments and 6.4 likes per post. I reached 83,083 total words published, an average of 923.1 words per post. At the end of June I was averaging 885.3 words per post. I don’t know how I got so much more longwinded so fast. But it does credit me with 14,032 words published in July, and that over only twelve posts. No wonder I’m tired.

Thanks as ever for reading my posts. You can add this page to your RSS reader by using this address. If you’d rather add it to your WordPress reader, you can use the button at the upper-right corner of the page. And if you’d rather see me on Twitter, please do add me @Nebusj. Thank you.

How July 2017 Treated My Mathematics Blog


July was a slightly better-read month around here than June was. I expected that. There weren’t any more posts in July — 13 both months — but the run-up to an A-to-Z sequence usually draws in readers. Not so many as might have been. I didn’t break back above the 1,000 threshold. But there were 911 page views from 568 distinct visitors, according to WordPress. In June there were 878 page views from only 542 visitors. May saw 1,029 page views from 662 visitors and I anticipate that August should be closer to that.

The biggest measure of how engaged readers were rose dramatically. There were 45 comments posted here over the month. In June there were a meager 13 comments, and in May only eight. Asking questions that demand answers, and that hold out the prospect of making me do stuff, seems to be the trick. The number of likes rose less dramatically, with 118 things liked around here. In June there were only 99 likess; in May, 78. This isn’t like the peaks of the Summer 2015 A To Z (518 Likes in June!), but we’ll see what happens.

The most popular posts in July were the usual mix of Reading the Comics posts, the number of grooves on a record, and A To Z publicity:

There were 60 countries sending me readers in July, up from 52 in June and in May. In a twist, the United States sent the greatest number of them:

Country Views
United States 466
Philippines 59
United Kingdom 57
Canada 45
India 35
Singapore 32
Austria 31
France 16
Australia 15
Brazil 14
Germany 12
Spain 12
Hong Kong SAR China 8
Italy 7
Puerto Rico 7
Argentina 6
South Africa 6
Belgium 5
Netherlands 4
Norway 4
Russia 4
Sweden 4
Switzerland 4
Chile 3
Indonesia 3
Nigeria 3
Slovakia 3
Colombia 2
Czech Republic 2
Denmark 2
Estonia 2
Lebanon 2
Malaysia 2
New Zealand 2
Pakistan 2
Poland 2
Thailand 2
Turkey 2
United Arab Emirates 2
Bangladesh 1
Belarus 1
Bulgaria 1
Cambodia 1
Cape Verde 1
Costa Rica 1
European Union 1
Hungary 1 (*)
Israel 1
Japan 1 (**)
Kazakhstan 1
Latvia 1
Mexico 1 (*)
Oman 1
Paraguay 1
Romania 1
Saudi Arabia 1
Serbia 1
South Korea 1
Ukraine 1 (**)
Vietnam 1

There were 20 single-reader countries, up from 16 in June and down from May’s 21. Hungary and Mexico were single-reader countries the previous month. Japan and Ukraine have been single-reader countries three months running now. I’ve lost my monthly lone Portuguese reader. I hope she’s well and just busy with other projects. Still don’t know what “European Union” means in this context.

The most popular day for reading was Monday, with 19 percent of page views coming in then. Why? Good question. In June it had been Sunday, with 18 percent. In May it was Sunday, with 16 percent. This is probably a meaningless flutter. The most popular hour was, again 4 pm, when 19 percent of page views came. 4 pm Greenwich Time is when I set most stuff to appear so I understand that being a trendy hour. In June the 4 pm hour got 14 percent of my page views.

August started with the blog having 51,034 page views from 23,322 distinct viewers that WordPress will admit to. And it lists me as having 676 followers on WordPress, up from the start of July’s triangular-number (thanks, IvaSally!) 666. If you’d like this blog to appear in your wordPress reader, please use the little blue strip labelled “Follow nebusresearch” which should appear in the upper-right corner of the page. If following by e-mail is more your thing, there’s a strip labelled “Follow Blog Via E-mail” that you can use. I have finally looked up how to make that e-mail instead of “email”. It required my trying. I’m also on Twitter, as @Nebusj. And I support a humor blog as well, a nice cozy little thing that includes useful bits of information like quick summaries of the current story comics so you can avoid sounding uninformed about the plot twists of Alley Oop. It’s a need which I can fill.