Exactly six months ago, we launched The Aperiodical. Since then, we’ve published 523 posts to 115,000 visitors; been slashdotted, Hacker Newsed, and reddited; mentioned on Radio 4; got to the bottom of a mystery; been inordinately proud of a new set of fonts; published pieces by 11 guest authors; and laughed all the way to the bank. Except the last one.
We thought we’d take this opportunity to gather together some of the best bits of the first six months of this venture, and reflect on what’s gone wrong and what’s gone right.
Some of the best bits
Electoral reforms and non-transitive dice by Andrew Taylor
Published before the site officially launched, but it’s great, and was mentioned on Radio 4’s Material World, where we were referred to as “the journal Aperiodical”!
Klein: outside the bottle by Peter, Christian and Katie
Blood, sweat and tears were shed writing this piece, so we could launch the site with a bang. Amazingly, only one pedant on Reddit picked us up for saying that the Klein bottle is 4-dimensional. Nothing we’ve written since has been proofread as closely as this.
We also posted a couple of other Klein-related items for the launch, including a video made by Matt Parker specially for the Aperiodical, outlining the Top N Facts about the Klein Bottle.
Classic maths books reset with LaTeX on Project Gutenberg by Christian
This was just a little news story posted the day after we launched. It was picked up by the Hacker News hordes and the traffic caused the server to fall over pretty much instantly. Lesson learned: turn caching on!
Grow your own Food by Christian and Katie
Katie and CP collaborated on this thought experiment taking Herman, the German Friendship Cake to his logical conclusion.
In what flipping dimension is a square peg in a round hole just as good as a round peg in a square hole? by Colm Mulcahy
Colm Mulcahy emailed offering to write some posts for us very soon after we launched, so we gave him a column straight away. He’s written some great stuff, including this great piece about a very unintuitive geometrical fact.
Has schoolboy genius solved problem that baffled mathematicians for centuries? by Peter and Christian
A few newspapers reported that a schoolboy had solved a problem “posed by Isaac Newton” which had stood unsolved “for over 300 years”. We were pretty skeptical, and over the course of a month we managed to get to the bottom of it.
Historical anniversaries: are they worth celebrating? and Mathematics: a culture of historical inaccuracy? by Peter
A pair of posts Peter wrote before the summer about how we view history. The first, on the eve of the Turing centenary, wondered whether we should be as excited as we seem to be about anniversaries. The second considers whether those anecdotes we know aren’t really true are a valuable part of mathematical folklore and should be encouraged.
WLTM real number. Must be normal and enjoy long walks on the plane by Christian
CP enjoyed writing this one, and got some nice comments from the authors of the paper!
Turing Round Up by Christian
Turing-mania reached fever pitch this year as we approached his centenary. We decided to collect all our Turing news into one easily-manageable post, both to save our sanity and your RSS reader’s. People made some great things to celebrate Alan Turing Year, but separating the wheat from the chaff was quite hard work.
To teach, must I principally research? and “I’m not a mathematician, the maths I’m doing is really just basic modelling” by Peter
A pair of posts Peter wrote in the run up to the start of university term, the first about the place of non-researchers in providing university education and the second about the mathematical level of work undertaken by graduates in employment.
Part of the reasoning behind the naming of the site was that we weren’t planning on having too many regular features, but we seem to have accumulated quite a few over the six months we’ve been going.
Katie’s regular monthly puzzle sheet, which already existed on Twitter, was adopted by the Aperiodical as a regular feature. While the puzzles don’t always involve maths directly, they enjoy having a home on the site. In addition, a couple of the puzzles which required some maths to construct have been given nice write-ups on the site by puzzle fiend Paul.
Carnival of Mathematics
This blog carnival has been running for several years, and Peter became aware it was in need of a new caretaker – previous Carnival boss Mike Croucher was looking for his spare time back – so the Aperiodical adopted it and now coordinates the monthly round-up of maths blogging, appointing hosts and publicising each month’s edition. (Future volunteers to host are always welcome!)
After the site had been running for a while, we realised we weren’t using enough puns on the word ‘aperiodical’, so we started the Aperiodcast – a completely non-regular audio podcast of recent posts we’d enjoyed and that had been popular, in amongst our random squabblings and geeking out about fonts.
Maths Jam is a monthly meeting of like-minded self-confessed maths enthusiasts who get together in a pub to share stuff they like (strictly limited to “Puzzles, games, problems, or just anything they think is cool or interesting”). Sometimes, still buzzing from the excitement of the previous night’s Jamming, we’ll feature a writeup of a Maths Jam night – often in one of Katie, CP or Peter’s homes of Manchester, Newcastle or Nottingham.
It hardly seems five minutes since Peter Krautzberger of mathblogging.org called The Aperiodical the “clear contender for single best thing that happened to math — sorry, maths blogging this year“, but actually that was only two weeks after we officially launched and that was six months ago. What do Katie, Christian and Peter think about the experience?
It doesn’t feel like six months has passed already! The site has become (I reckon) a really nice collection of interesting things, and if I weren’t already involved I’d certainly have it as one of my RSS feeds. I’m also pleased with how we’ve integrated it with Facebook and Twitter, as it means people can share things really easily and we get a conversation going. It’d be nice to get some more good feature posts, and I hope to convince a couple more (exciting) authors to start guest columns. I’m looking forward to see how the site grows and what happens next!
First of all, I’m really pleased with how the site has developed. It’s been quite successful in meeting the aims we set out for it, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed running it with Peter and Katie.
A couple of things haven’t worked out: we’ve slowed down on the long, well-researched pieces like the Klein one, and we haven’t had as many guest authors as we wanted. I think we all realised that we didn’t have enough time to keep up with posting news stories, run the various regular features, and write in-depth pieces while holding down our day jobs.
While the pieces we have published from other authors have all been great, there haven’t been many of them. There are loads of people writing great stuff on their own blogs, so maybe it was arrogant to think we could just ask them to post on ours instead, or maybe we could do some more to drum up pieces for the site. For a while we considered applying for grants to pay for pieces, but we decided that would lead us down the road to icky commercialism.
The things that have worked outweigh those two failings by far. I’ve really enjoyed writing not just my “regular” columns (and I really do enjoy writing the Aperiodical Round Up), but keeping abreast of news and doing research into stories or new papers has been much more interesting than I thought it would be.
I want to do more with the look of the site in future. At the moment we’re using the bloated-yet-competent Pagelines theme for WordPress, with a few customisations and the beeeeautiful Computer Modern fonts. I think we’ve mentioned how pleased we are with the fonts. Producing graphics for stories is very time-consuming but I’ve come to realise how much better they make everything look.
What can I say? The Aperiodical is an unpaid commitment bringing hassle and obligation into my already busy life and distracting me from the far more important things I should be doing.
Can we stop now?
Finally, thanks to Andrew and Paul Taylor, Alistair Bird, Samuel Hansen, Matt Parker, Steve Mould, Johnathan Gregg, Julia Collins, Madeleine Shepherd, Colin Beveridge and Colm Mulcahy for writing some really excellent stuff and giving it to us for free. Much appreciated!