### “A and B” is equivalent to “B and A”, and the order matters

In math, I’m used to making no distinction between saying “A and B” and saying “B and A” — they each assert that both of the component statements are true. In fancy terms, we say that the conjunction “and” is commutative, like addition (a+b=b+a) and multiplication (ab = ba). Many mathematical operations are not commutative in general, … More “A and B” is equivalent to “B and A”, and the order matters

### Writing an academic paper with Scrum

Part of my job as an academic is to write up and share my research results with the rest of the mathematical community, but while I moderately enjoy writing, I don’t enjoy how long it takes me: I spend a lot of time rewriting whole sections to make a point slightly better, or having to … More Writing an academic paper with Scrum

### Self-referential spam

I have a contact page here on my website, which lets people get in touch with me without my having to make my email address public, and it’s come in handy several times—mostly for former students or readers of my academic papers who only have old contact info for me. It’s always attracted a little … More Self-referential spam

### What we can’t spend

Some things, like money, time, and effort, are scarce resources that need careful budgeting to be used optimally. Some of those, like effort and attention, can return stronger after resting from difficult use, as if they’ve been built up like a muscle through exercise, which makes the calculus of optimizing how much and when to … More What we can’t spend

### The Commonplace Book #4: “Scroll down / Scroll up”

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may have seen some of my commonplace book posts, where I take a short piece of clever writing, try to understand how it works, and make my own version. Today’s piece of writing is this poem I saw making the rounds on social media, which … More The Commonplace Book #4: “Scroll down / Scroll up”

### TCPB #3: Pants under or over pants?

A recent episode of The Allusionist about the differences between American and British English opened with this comment by Helen Zaltzman: We can’t even agree on whether pants are the garments you wear under or over your pants! I love this so much. I’ve heard sentences before with the trick of a single word needing to be … More TCPB #3: Pants under or over pants?

### TCPB #2: “Don’t man the phone—phone the man!”

The second installment in my commonplace book analyzes a line from the hilarious children’s television show Phineas and Ferb. When Stacy becomes exasperated with Candace waiting for her boyfriend to call, she says: “Don’t man the phone—phone the man!” I love this clever inversion: the same words are used in reverse order and with different meanings. In … More TCPB #2: “Don’t man the phone—phone the man!”

### The Commonplace Book: Entry 1

In Roy Peter Clark’s book How to Write Short, he suggests keeping an eye out for good short writing, trying to understand what makes it good, and recording your attempts at using those techniques in a “commonplace book.” I’ve tried a few different pocket notebooks in the past, but now that I’ve got one I can … More The Commonplace Book: Entry 1

### Goals for Winter Break

Hello there! As of this writing, I have officially finished my first term as a visiting assistant professor at Carleton College, and our unusually long winter break is essentially the whole month of December. I’m tired and looking forward to a bit of a rest, but I also don’t want to waste the opportunity to … More Goals for Winter Break

### It’s on the tip of my tongue…

I like to write a short Goodreads review for each book I read, if only to remind myself what I liked or found interesting later. I was recently reviewing the children’s fantasy novel A Face Like Glass, and I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the way all the small mysteries related to one overarching … More It’s on the tip of my tongue…