Sunday 18 May 2014

End of the Line

The Soundtrack for this post is here.

I was left to my own devices.

Many days fell away, when no one would show.

Though my calls kept echoing out for this story that I love...

No crowds rolled over the hills - only darkness from above.

So, where do I begin? The rubble or my sins?


"Taylor's Polynomials" Series 1-3 was the initial idea, almost exactly three years ago (at Anime North). I began publishing in July 2011, and over a year, I gradually broadened a mathematical universe, from polynomials through conics and trigonometry. Mostly for fun, but done in the hope others would like it.

As I approached summer 2012 I realized I wasn't sure where to extend the concept, so before Series 4, I shifted things to a blog, joined twitter, talked to colleagues, bought a domain name, learned video editing, participated in "Mystery Teacher Theatre 2000"... generally tried to broaden my scope, find new inspiration, and promote what I was doing. (For more about promotion, read this post at (x, why?).)

There was a brief spike of interest (from MTT2k), which quickly petered out.

In the couple years (and 100+ episodes) that have followed, I've linked to other subjects, and to educational math websites. I've tried to include more current events. I've pushed the boundaries of my storytelling, employing themes of depression, race, and same sex relations. I've done video recaps and explanation posts. I've created new characters (step functions, fractals), and tried to incorporate more statistics into the mathematical narrative. All to minimal effect.

A single person can only do so much.

It's not that there were no comments. That's sort of typical for most bloggers, you don't question it. It's that there was no interest in talking about it... to others, or even to me.

To sum up, through 3 years and over 220 episodes, I'm aware of:
-A single song parody recommended in a blog, by (x, why?) with this entry. To be fair, live performances tend to be the preference.
-A tiny handful of individual episodes tweeted out, mostly by Audrey McLaren (@a_mcsquared) within the last two months. Twitter is otherwise silent, barring me pulling a "Hey! Listen!".
-No post links to me (outside of x, why) that I didn't initiate. And no brand recognition whatsoever. For example, the whole "Versine" craze of 2013 (after the Onion trig article) happened a year AFTER I used her in my serial, and NO ONE thought of me. In fact I think the only person to send me content prospects (math or otherwise) has been Scott Delahunt.

It led to this rant last November asking what the heck I was doing wrong, wondering how I can improve, and if there was a point to regular updates at all. Like MTT2k, prompted a week of interest, but after that we were back to status quo. Then last week, series' end. As of now, it got 36 views.

Analysis: I suppose the main problem is that I've never been quite sure of my audience. People who like math? People who don't like math? People who like english with math? Teachers? Students? I've handed out loads of business cards at conferences and talked it up, on and offline. Even been recognized on occasion. But the response has consistently been "That's neat. Bye now."

Conclusion: It's not enough to have a product. You need to target it somewhere. Somehow.

Corollary: No one else had a sense of where to target it either.


Let's face it. The things we do in life never play out quite the way we expect them to. This is good - otherwise life would get boring. Also, there are times when we look to others for direction, or for inspiration, and they cannot provide any insight. This can also be good. It's a sign you're forging new ground, and/or it signifies you have a chance to step up and be more self-sufficient.

There also comes a time when you have to step away. To cut your losses. I guess that's where I am.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I now believe the following is the underlying flaw:
There is no interest in a mathematics blog when it's underlying story is fiction.

What is this, some kinda metaphor??
Because when you're reading my fiction...
-You're not learning from the success or failure of others. Only from stuff I made up.
-You're not learning by following a human character that you can relate to. Unless you can relate to mathematical relations.
-You're not learning by seeing the problems of society mirrored in cartoonish drawings. Most connections are secondary to the storyline.
-You're ONLY learning in a direct way if you follow my copious links - and other websites do that kind of thing in a more straightforward way, so why come to this blog at all??

Well, you're here now, let's hope you can at least learn from my failure.

I do NOT buy that my problem is the serial format - serial entries are supposed to stand on their own, the same way entries to a teacher's 180 blog are stand-alone. (Would you not read Day 53 of a blog simply because you haven't read Days 1-52?) I suppose I can accept that I'm lousy at writing serials. But more likely it's the concept itself. "Fluff" math, for pure entertainment, cloaked in geeky references... is something which has little to no lasting impact.

See, I'm in the rather unique position of managing two blogs. This one, and the one where I post about random educational/writing things. (FYI, this one came first.) When I was crazy busy at the start of April 2014, I didn't post in MathieX at all. Yet I still had almost 2,000 hits for my OLD posts by April 21st. Here, where I managed to keep to my weekly posting schedule, I had less than half that number of hits. (I... won't say how much less.) And while it's possible I'm misinterpreting the hit stats (apparently Readers don't register), I'm doing it the same way for both blogs. Ergo, I see there is more demand for non-fiction.

That said, there was some demand here.

Here's where I thank my regular readers! So much!!! Let me assure you, some days the small act of a retweet has been the ONLY thing that gave me enough incentive to push onwards. (I grant that on other days, I've done it because I'm quite fond of the characters.) Thus last week's conclusion of the "math subject" story arc is as much for you as it is for me, and I do hope you're coming away satisfied.

For the curious, I average between 40 and 50 views (total) on any post. It's skewed - a few posts have higher hits. But as a trend, it hasn't been growing. At all. (Unless we go back to my first six months, when I was lucky to get 5 hits! So there's that!) While I do wish there could have been more, part of me is equally glad it wasn't less. In a sense, thanks to Audrey's recent archive dive, I even feel a bit like I'm going out on top. It's as if some of what I actually intended was finally happening in the end. For that too, I can be grateful.


"Mr. Bruckman, there are hits and there are misses... and then there are misses." --Scully, X-Files

I currently have more than enough material in my head to continue this serial indefinitely. But it's obvious (albeit painful) for me to see that my time would be better served elsewhere.

What might cause things to resume? If there's actual public call for it (doubtful - Facebook page remains under 20 likes), if the march of time shows there was something of use here after all (possible - haven't had the chance to explore all options), or if I can find a way to reinvent this thing to have LOADS less fiction (most probable - yet Series 4 was such an attempt, and it was a flop).

In the meantime, I'm going to have to do some serious rethinking. Along with some soul searching too.

SO. If you are wondering about any loose plot threads, or have any other thoughts, feel free to leave a comment. Similarly, feel free to use the comments to flag any initiative you're involved in! I know firsthand how tough it is to get any sort of internet foothold, and now that I'm not updating, others might want somewhere new to go. I'll likely even check it out myself... once the pain has dulled and my tears stop coming back.


Despite my initial soundtrack... don't close your eyes. There's great stuff happening out there in writing, in mathematics, and in education. Seek it out. Support it. Or if you don't support it, at least suggest what might be the problem with it.

It's all too easy for creative ideas to get buried like Pompeii.


  1. I'm sorry, Greg. I'm not a loyal reader of anyone's blog, nor am I a loyal writer of my own, so I am not a good judge of what attracts a steady following. I think the math folks on Twitter, as you've pointed out, are looking for ideas to use in their teaching, not fun diversions - no one seems to have enough time for that.

    I think you have amassed a cool collection of characters. I wonder if you could use them in a cartoon format; short on text but rich with puns and such. I truly hope you get over the sad part soon, my friend.

    1. I was going to suggest what Jennifer suggested, using your characters in a different format. You've created them, they exist, and while time is a sparse resource for you, using them creatively in class is always a possibility, even if just as a visual representation of how the trig functions look. The students just have to remember the hair styles. :)

      I'm not sure why the lack of followers or feedback. It could be that you were ahead of the curve and more mathematical representations could come next September from someone else. You managed to be one of the first to parody "Call Me Maybe", long before anyone else had.

      Take time over the summer to take stock of what you learned from the serials. You took an idea and kept it going for three years, expanding the references each new serial. All else fails, you have a drama club at your disposal if you want to see your characters make the transition from web to stage. :)

    2. I'm not great at following others' blogs either - partly due to time, so I'm hoping I'll have more of it now. As to using the characters in some other way... I did seriously consider moving to more of a webcomic style. The problems with that are:
      -It's a format outside of my comfort zone, so I'd need to devote more time to it.
      -It would probably involve doing a lot more artwork, so again, time.
      -If I did do that, and I STILL had no readership, I honestly don't know if I could live with myself. Meaning I need to put some distance here.

      It's funny, I thought after this post cued up, I'd be able to make a clean break. Not sure why I believed that. In particular, the song parodies may well continue. Or not. We'll see how things play out. NOT to the stage though. >.<

    3. Let the Mathtans lie fallow for a bit. No need to rush to a new project. If an idea comes, it comes. If not, they can still decorate whiteboards and tests.

      You managed to sustain a serial for close to three years. The web is littered with the remnants of webcomics abandoned after three weeks. You have the Mathtans for when you need them, whenever that will be.

  2. Maybe it's because you draw like a three-year-old. I would have read your series to assess your writing but my eyes bled too much for me to see.

    1. I grant that while I called this a "serial", I don't know of any others that are self-illustrated. And I have wondered if my "hybrid" style might have been part of the problem. Originally the sketches were to show what was in my head... then for the blog it was to provide what one might call "image bait". How necessary are they if I go to some sort of book-style? Not sure.

      That said, you're entering the realm of hyperbole, and if you'd prefer the original text files, there's politer ways to ask for them.