The website/forumsite Mathetreff, run by the Bezirksregierung (region government) Düsseldorf, just performed a mail interview with me.
Here it is, translated to english, for your enjoyment.
MT: Dear Mr. Johansson, you are an expert on mathematics blogs. Thus first off a double question: What is a blog, and what do you do in your algebra blog?
MJ: A blog, or weblog as the name started, is basically just a comfortable way to publish texts sequentially on the web. As such blogs aren’t much more than websites with administration aids. The interesting starts when you involve interactions – comments on the texts or easy linking between different blogs.
For this, there are both many different blog softwares, that make these aspects easy accessible and automated, and many websites that network blogs. Thus, it happens that farreaching blog debates occur, where through a networking site several blog discuss or even fight over some question.
I run two blogs myself. One is a sort of open diary – I write there to tell my friends about my life: thoughts, news, book reviews or quiz results from various web quizzes or other toys. The other one (ed. note: here) is a blog that I opened as I was about to start my PhD studies. It’s inspired by the english PhD student Craig, who on his blog Gooseania writes about his life as a PhD student in Mathematics. On this blog, I collect more deliberate texts than in my diary: thoughts on my own research, explanations and popular mathematics texts, as well as some political texts and programming discussions and aspects of theoretical computer science.
MT: What role do blogs play in mathematics?
MJ: So far, their role is not very visible. There is a theoretical physicist – John Baez – who has been writing a blog in Usenet long before blogging started as a phenomenon. He currently runs a research blog, where he and his colleagues discuss current research with a loyal and to a large extent research active readership, link to new articles, and basically perform their research programme in public. Furthermore, several wellknown mathematicians have started blogging – Terence Tao, the 2006 Fields medalist, runs a blog, and Alain Connes participates in a group blog about non-commutative geometry.
There is, however, more student blogs around than researcher blogs. The older generation of mathematician doesn’t’ seem to have gotten on the bandwagon quite yet. I hope that this’ll change in the next couple of years.
MT: Are there math-blogs run by pre-university students?
MJ: I think there would be, though I haven’t really seen any in my searches. There are many more undergraduates to be found though. For instance, the universities of Newcastle and Warwick have blog directories and centralized blog sites with both student and teacher participation.
MT: Do blogs matter among teachers?
MJ: Definitely! There are many blogging teachers – primarily in the USA – who write about their teaching experiences, about pedagogy, about students and about their thoughts and ideas.
MT: How do you start a blog?
MJ: Today there are primarily a few generic blog hosts that come in question. The biggest may well be Blogger and WordPress.com, whereby WordPress offers better possibilities to write mathematics with their integrated LaTeX support.
I hope, though, to start a project to build a german blog host geared toward mathematicians and mathematics blogs.
MT: How do you find interesting blogs?
MJ: The best method, in my opinion, is to find a blog that interests you, and follow all the links in the sidebar, and repeat this for each blog you find interesting among those. Apart from that, there are carnivals: regular postings with links to interesting blog entries following a certain theme. There is one Carnival of Mathematics and also a Carnival of Education. There are also some sites that list new posts, sorted into categories. The possibly biggest is Technorati, where a search with keywords such as ‘mathematics’ or ‘education’ will give plenty of interesting hits.
MT: Finally, a question about your work as a mathematician. What do you do in algebra?
MJ: There are methods to convert questions such as “How many holes are there in this object? How many bubbles?” into purely algebraic questions. These conversions exhibit very interesting structures, that also give tools for more areas than just the initial geometrical questions. I consider how to perform calculations with these structures faster and better using extra information that can be found in the structures.
MT: Why algebra?
MJ: I’m a mathematician because I see a deep beauty in mathematics. To me, this beauty is found in the structures and abstract connections. Thus, in the realm of languages I find grammar more interesting than vocabulary or learning to speak the language; and in mathematics the abstractions carry an attraction in its own right.
MT: Thank you.