Every mathematics student is in his own a special case — having his own qualities and snags. A math blogger is even more special.  He is more than just a mathematician or just a blogger. A math blogger is an entertainer… a magician, who devises techniques of making math more readable and even more interesting. There are hundreds of such mathemagicians blogging about thoughtful and fun-aspects of mathematics. In this series of talks, called “Meet the Math Blogger“, I’ll be chasing and interviewing my favorite bloggers around the internet who write a little or more about mathematical sciences. We will learn about their learning, teaching & blogging lives.

In the very first issue of “Meet the math blogger”, we’ve found Josh Young : the founder editor of Mathematical Mischief blog. I have followed his blog since he started it. He is one of the few math bloggers who started their blogging career at the same age I did. Josh is very talented and has one of the best content-writing and presentation styles.

Mathematical Mischief Logo

Josh’s about page tells a lot of things about him. He is a twenty years old undergraduate student from RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. According to Josh, he is a defiant, volunteer and hardworking ‘adult’. And as far as I know about him, he is very humble, friendly & exceptionally helpful for the people in need. But Josh doesn’t end with these few lines. I had a long list of questions for him and this is how he answered all of them:

Gaurav Tiwari:
How is Josh as a student? Does he face common issues like all other math & non-math students do? Does he often forget physical things but never forgets the equations and formulas? How many hours does he read/write?

Josh Young:

Let me be open with this – when I started the blog I was a very studious math student. I used to put about ten to twelve hours into my work each week – but of course, that’s when I was younger. I had a better work-life balance back then, but as I got older, I’ve taken up a lot more work, and that’s stripped back my study time.
Naturally, I’ve had to work on that – there’s a tendency to perform badly if you simply don’t put the hours into it (as I’ve done) – so I’m working to rectify those issues at the moment. Also, procrastination – I get distracted really, really easily. I might go more into that later.
I must admit, my strengths mathematically tend to be my ability to interchange what I’m studying with the real world – to go ‘Hey, I learnt that in class today!’. I’m fairly adaptive to the situation, so I can handle most mathematics – my issues tend to be with proofs (which, in all honesty, I’ve never met a person that doesn’t have trouble with them).


Gaurav Tiwari:

Do you apply study timetables to your life? How you plan things likes completing assignments, finishing course materials and preparing for exams?

Josh Young:

Timetables are a necessity in my life. One of the things not mentioned in my about page is that I work more than one job. I actually work three jobs – and while one is just casual work (student presentations and things, I’m actually heading there in about an hour), the other two are both part time (one at university and one in retail). I tend to assign times to when I do homework, as well as reading course materials during any opportunities I have. I’ll write down a checklist of all the personal, university and professional things I may have to do over say, three days and work from there. I also sometimes use paper calendars and Google Calendar to assist with my timetabling – although I tend to procrastinate when updating it.


Gaurav Tiwari:

Which was the best mathematics book you ever read? Who is your favorite mathematician?

Josh Young:

 If we’re talking contemporary mathematician – I really love Herb Gross’ work, especially with the role he took in developing maths support videos at MIT back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. His focus is on mathematics typically covered at a university level, such as vector calculus, differential equations, that sort of thing. I’m actually going through his videos at the moment as a differential equations refresher.
Historically, I do quite like Isaac Todhunter’s work – he’s a mathematician and educator from the mid-19th century, wrote quite a few books. Funny story, I was in a tutoring session once and the student was being rude – so I started supplementing maths questions from one of the textbooks that I had (which was interesting – the oldest book in my collection is an 1865 copy of ‘Algebra for Students’ (I’m pretty sure that’s the name – it’s in storage at the moment). The student didn’t notice the difference at all, surprising (given that the questions a century and a half ago appear a lot harder than those that are in contemporary textbooks).

Gaurav Tiwari:

Which one is your favorite fiction book/movie? Who is your favorite author?

Josh Young:

That’s a good one. Although I don’t read nearly as much as I’d like to, I very much like a good book. Action/adventure, spy novels, as well as some light Sci-Fi are particular favourites. Scarecrow by Matthew Reilly and Charlie and the Chocolate factory by Roald Dahl are tied for favourite, I would think.


Gaurav Tiwari:

Which branch of mathematics you favor the most? Are you planning to make mathematics your career? How much planning have you done for your future as a student? Will you go for a research?$

Josh Young:
I doubt I’ll go for a research role any time soon. I’m a very hands on person – although in reality that’s a lot of digital analytics. I’m currently working towards an honors year – most likely specialising in applied mathematics.

I’ve done a fair bit of career planning – I tend to put an hour or two a week into it. Firstly, I think I’ll be aiming to get into my honours year and go from there. I would very much like to make mathematics my career – although, it may be indirectly (through analysis or modelling), rather than a direct use of it (such as teaching).
At some point, I would very much like to complete a Master’s Degree in Education and become a teacher – most likely high school mathematics, later years stuff. That’s a ways off, though – I’d like to travel a bit and get some life experience before becoming a teacher.

Gaurav Tiwari

How Josh, the student became a blogger?

Josh Young:

This is a somewhat bemusing origin story – it involves my very good friend Amanda, and little short stories I used to write. So, about four years ago I was writing romantic short stories – apparently they were quite good, and Amanda encouraged me to get them out there. So that’s the origin story of blogging for me.
Mathematical Mischief has a slightly more intense origin story. I had been working on an education blog called Surviving VCE for about a year, and I quite enjoyed being a part of it. Unfortunately, after some disagreements with the owner about the direction of the blog I decided to forge my own path. Mathematical Mischief is the direct result of that – my wish to be a part of a mathematics blog but also the wish to maintain ownership and editorial integrity, rather than being compromised by the views than others. In that aspect, it was quite successful – within twelve months, Mathematical Mischief had significantly outpaced any blog that I’d ever worked on, far more successful than I thought it would be.


Gaurav Tiwari

Who is your favorite blogger (both math & non-math)?

Josh Young:

Favorite blogger? Ooh, that’s a tough call. Very tough call… I quite like both Classic (@SherlockMadame‘s writing alias, she changes blogs regularly) and Cappy (I don’t know Cappy’s real name but she’s fantastic), they’re both wonderful writers. Neither are mathematics bloggers, but I think both are fantastic.

As for mathematics blogs, I don’t have a particular favourite. Admittedly, I have a soft spot for Ian VanderSchee‘s blog BlueShirtKhakiPants. He does a maths comic each week using BitStrips – they’re cheesy, but they are so good. I’ve previously set some of my favourites as phone wallpapers. There are a lot of fantastic blogs out there, though – Alex Autin, Science for Scientists, On Sarah’s iPad – they’re only a few of the stash of blogs I read.


Gaurav Tiwari:

Tech bloggers earn a lot [of money] by writing at their blogs. Can mathematics bloggers do the same? According to you, what are the challenges to mathematical blogging?

Josh Young:

I think mathematics blogs can be highly successful – in some ways, they are very similar to all blogs. It’s all dependent on the views of the owner – some bloggers view their sites as successful if they monetize them, others if they’ve got plenty of views.
I’ve got no interest in monetizing Mathematical Mischief – I have my own income, and I’m of the belief that education shouldn’t have to be shoved full of advertising. Learning shouldn’t be something that is profited from, rather something that is successful through participation.
In essence, mathematics blogging has it’s own struggles – it’s a tough subject to talk about by itself, but if you apply it to something you can be seen as evasive or just writing click-bait.

I think in overcoming the issues we have with mathematical blogging is to tackle it in a multi-faceted manner. There needs to be an update of mathematical tools and functionality online, in terms of presentation (such as online graphing, expression, assessment design through educational plugins). In that same aspect, there needs to be a way wherein students can find this information.
Search algorithms are generally based on the relevance and popularity of topics – which is great when we’re looking at television, but terrible when we want to find a maths quiz that may not have been titled exactly what you’re after. There needs to be ways and means for students to access this information (not too dissimilar to David Wees’ mathematics bloggers archive).

Gaurav Tiwari:

Which tools you regularly use for writing/blogging and reading stuffs?

Josh Young:

I use a self-hosted WordPress install to run my blog – I put a bit of my own income into developing and maintaining the blog. I recently switched hosting providers, in order to improve access to the blog, and I’m currently researching new menu bars in order to improve navigation around the blog.

I tend to do a lot of planning on paper, or drafting within WordPress. I like to use a lot of collaborative software in groups, but when I’m working individually, I find nothing better than a good set of handwritten notes.
As for reading – I stick to internet bookmarks, of all things. I also keep a list of blogs on my desk of things that I’d like to read when I have the time – it’s a fairly large list.


Gaurav Tiwari:

What else you do beyond math & WordPress/blogging ?

Josh Young:

A lot of news reading and research. I’m particularly interested in Australian politics (even though they’re all jerks), as well as the local rail system. I do a little bit of debating too (but not much, I forget to attend most of the sessions!)

Outside of that, I do a fair bit of reading and writing – and the occasional Sudoku.

Gaurav Tiwari:

How you see yourself in future? What is you career planning?

Josh Young:

In the short term, I see myself working through the remainder of my university degree – after that, honours, then full time work.
For the blog – I guess we’ll see, I intend to be around for a long time yet.


Gaurav Tiwari:

Something special, which you want to share to  the readers?$

Josh Young:

Given the recent news cycle, I’ve decided to write a pledge for the blog. It will be up this Sunday – it’s a bit of a ‘what I’m here’ for and ‘what we stand for’. That can be found at http://www.mathematicalmischief.com/the-pledge/
If anyone would like to contact me, they’re more than welcome to do so. I’m active on Monday nights and I will be writing new posts in a few weeks.
I would like to finish with a parting phrase. Maths can be seen as excruciatingly difficult, and it’s ok if you don’t do very well. By getting through it, you open up a whole new area of opportunities.

Epilogue

Gaurav Tiwari:

I, on the behalf of our crazy three men team, thank you for sharing your time and experiences. 🙂 It was a pleasure knowing about you. Have a great time ahead.$

Josh Young:

Josh Young

Happy to help, Gaurav. If you have many questions feel free to ask. [In response to our request of a photo and an autograph:] I’ve also included a picture below – no signature, though. It’s my tired train face – not the best photo I’ve got, but the most real.

 


He is Josh Young, dear readers, the amazing guy behind Mathematical MischiefHe can be followed on Twitter , Facebook, Google+ and YouTube. We’ll catch him again when needed and we know he will be back.

 

Published by Gaurav Tiwari

A designer by profession, a mathematician by education but a Blogger by hobby. Loves reading and writing. Just that.