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robertogreco : approachability   5

Contrasts in Number Theory - Scientific American Blog Network
"“Respected research math is dominated by men of a certain attitude.” So starts the prologue to The Equidistribution of Lattice Shapes of Rings of Integers of Cubic, Quartic, and Quintic Number Fields: an Artist’s Rendering (pdf), mathematician Piper Harron’s thesis.

The entire prologue is fantastic, so instead of trying to describe it, I might as well quote it.
“Even allowing for individual variation, there is still a tendency towards an oppressive atmosphere, which is carefully maintained and even championed by those who find it conducive to success. As any good grad student would do, I tried to fit in, mathematically. I absorbed the atmosphere and took attitudes to heart. I was miserable, and on the verge of failure. The problem was not individuals, but a system of self-preservation that, from the outside, feels like a long string of betrayals, some big, some small, perpetrated by your only support system. When I physically removed myself from the situation, I did not know where I was or what to do. First thought: FREEDOM!!!! Second thought: but what about the others like me, who don’t do math the “right way” but could still greatly contribute to the community? I combined those two thoughts and started from zero on my thesis. People who, for instance, try to read a math paper and think, “Oh my goodness what on earth does any of this mean why can’t they just say what they mean????” rather than, “Ah, what lovely results!” (I can’t even pretend to know how “normal” mathematicians feel when they read math, but I know it’s not how I feel.) My thesis is, in many ways, not very serious, sometimes sarcastic, brutally honest, and very me. It is my art. It is myself. It is also as mathematically complete as I could honestly make it.

“I’m unwilling to pretend that all manner of ways of thinking are equally encouraged, or that there aren’t very real issues of lack of diversity. It is not my place to make the system comfortable with itself. This may be challenging for happy mathematicians to read through; my only hope is that the challenge is accepted.”

What follows is a math paper, filled with real number theory but written in an informal style, with clearly labeled sections for laypeople, mathematicians who want a general overview of the ideas, and people who want to see some of the gory details. She explains concepts using unicycles and groups of well-behaved children. There are comics about going into labor while writing a thesis. The content of the paper is not easy, but the presentation is entertaining and refreshing.

Harron, whose website is called The Liberated Mathematician, writes, “My view of mathematics is that it is an absolute mess which actively pushes out the sort of people who might make it better. I have no patience for genius pretenders. I want to empower the people.”

Harron has a reluctant maybe blog on her website and has written a great post on mathbabe.org. In both places, she says things a lot of us are afraid to say about the attitudes we feel like we have to pick up in order to fit into the mathematical community. Based on the way her thesis and blog posts have gone through my Facebook and Twitter, I think I’m not alone in identifying with many of the feelings she describes. I certainly felt the same pressure to conform that she felt as a beginning graduate student. As she puts it: “Please tell me the rules I must abide by in order to make no waves!”"



"This is why Harron’s work is all the more necessary. As she writes in her thesis, she wishes to relay to students that “1) you are not expected to understand every word as you read it, 2) you can successfully use math before you’ve successfully understood it, and 3) it has to be okay to be honest about your understanding.” I wish more young mathematicians learned these lessons and weren't afraid to reveal their ignorance.

Another thing I thought was interesting about these two stories is who reported and shared them. My math friends shared the heck out of Harron’s thesis, and I saw more about the abc conjecture from nonmathematicians who follow popular science. This wasn’t a binary thing; mathematicians shared articles about the abc conjecture, and nonmathematicians wrote about Harron's thesis, but for the most part, it was the other way around, at least in what I saw.

I’m not quite sure what conclusions to draw from the way the stories were shared, but it feels important. I think it says something about how mathematicians present themselves allow others to present them. On some level, we want others to put us on a pedestal. We don’t really mind it when someone gets the message “oh, it's too complicated—you wouldn’t understand.”

On the other hand, the strong positive reaction to Harron’s work within mathematics shows that many in the mathematical community are hungry for something different. Even people for whom the status quo has worked (after all, they’re still there) recognize that mathematics loses when we build barriers for some groups of people or encourage people to adopt the “certain attitude” Harron writes about in her thesis.

Does the abc conjecture represent a dying old guard, and does Piper Harron represent the way of the future? I'd guess nothing that dramatic is going on. But mathematicians should think about how they want to explain mathematics and who they are inviting in or leaving out in the process."
math  mathematics  piperharron  2015  thesis  accessibility  gender  approachability 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Week 2 - Weekly Dispatch
"a blog post by Tag Savage [http://sexpigeon.org/post/16729718345/path-puts-a-silly-amount-of-trust-in-its-avatars ] about Path’s user interface choices in their app. Central tennent: if a place is too pristine and planned, it can’t be colonized. Tag’s words:

"Path is pretty in the same designy way as our modern museums. […] These museums are very exciting when they open. You show up and marvel along with all of the other fans of architecture. Maybe you return for one of those nights where they stay open late and there is a band and drinking. “A great space,” you think. […] The art doesn’t get talked about so much at these museums."

Path is a monument to Path. It is no place to scribble in. I wish it longevity so that it might find shabbiness.

A tricky balance, to be sure, but one that must be navigated if a product is dependant on user’s content. Part of the product must be left undone to provide the opening for the user to contribute."
pristineness  usefulness  architecture  ownership  space  place  museums  over-planning  planning  tagsavage  frankchimero  wabi-sabi  comfort  approachability  shabbiness  2012  colonization  path 
february 2012 by robertogreco
Pasta&Vinegar » Matt Jones on mujicomp and mujicompfrastructures at Technoark
"Matt Jones gave a talk called “people are walking architecture“...he introduced the notion of “Mujicomp”, a portmanteau word made of “Muji” (the japanese retail company which sells a wide variety of household and consumer goods) and “Computing”. What does it mean?

According to Jones, the idea of “mujicomp” revolved around the notion that ubiquitous computing needs to “become sexy and desirable… able to be appreciated as cultural design objects rather than technology… they should be tasteful, simple, clear, clean, contemporary, affordable in order to be invited into the home“. If designers and engineers want to “make smart cities bottom up with products and not academic ubiquitous computing which are always postponed“, he argued that ubicomp will need some “muji”. And of course, as shown by Jone’s use of the quote from Eliel Saarinen, “always design a thing by considering it in its larger context… a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment“."

[See also: http://berglondon.com/blog/2010/05/18/people-are-walking-architecture-or-making-nearlynets-with-mujicomp/ ]
mattjones  nicolasnova  mujicomp  cities  architecture  ubicomp  design  muji  janejacobs  infrastructure  clayshirky  data  accessibility  approachability  culture  objects  simplicity  elielsaarinen  urban  urbanism  perma-net  nearly-net  systems 
february 2010 by robertogreco

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