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?


WHERE WE BEGAN


"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.


BEING AN OPTIMIST ABOUT THIS


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.


THE DUST SETTLES


"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.


FINAL MESSAGE


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.


Sunday, 11 May 2014

S6.222 - Home Again



The Story So Far: After leaving Fractal City, personified math must deal with a wormhole that could bring them to Statistics... help point the way back home... or destroy them outright.

Given the lack of wormhole turbulence, Logan managed to set his gazebo down next to the Hyper Jumper. Having monitored the majority of the situation from the bridge, ArcTan was quick to emerge and assess QT's condition. "Exhaustion," he concluded. "If she were trig, I'd say take two pie and call me in the morning. In this case? I'd recommend two root vegetables."


The medic turned to ParaB. "As for YOU..." He shook his head. "I don't even know how to get a reading off of you. Sorry."

"It's okay," ParaB sighed. Her initial horror had resolved itself into a resigned numbness, and she now sat on the ground staring at the ring for the broken Jump Gate. "I think I should revise my earlier evaluation of avoiding 'safe' though... it's equally important not to stretch yourself too far, too fast. After all, you can't do it over again if you're dead."


"Everyone else seems generally unhurt!" ArcCos remarked, helping his brother to his feet - after removing ArcSin's swirled glasses. He turned to look towards the super deformed fractal. "What about the equipment?"


CanTor finished tapping on her iPad before looking up. "Flux capacitor's scrap. Gate looks beyond repair. Even the Dial Out Device is damaged. No idea how much work will be needed." She grimaced. "I'll be stuck here with the rest of you for a while."



"That plan worked though," Expona remarked, as she climbed out of Logan's ship. "According to all the readings we're getting downstairs... our present location is the subject of mathematics." She looked towards the quadratics. "So, congratulations bunnies. Put your minds at ease. You've saved numerology. Once again."

Para pursed her lips. Expona's tone reminded her of the confrontation that had occurred back when she'd proposed starting up the trigonometric orchestra. The redhead was still upset with her. But Para still didn't know what, if anything, she could do about that. Not that it was the best time for such thoughts anyway... she was still feeling the aftereffects of a splitting headache. Literally.


"So... what now?" Signum asked, looking from Maud to the others gathered in the area.


"Good question," Maud remarked. "Are we about to face the wrath of Q?"


Cosine allowed her transformation to fade out. "Well, whether we are or not, how about we get everyone back to the mainland?" the tall trig suggested. "There's nothing for us here."


"Wait. Someone's coming." Tangent lifted her arm to point along the length of the bridge, and the figure who was walking down towards them. Disturbingly, her silhouette looked a lot like that of QT. Though as she got closer, they noticed that she didn't have any cat ears, and that she was wearing glasses and a silver-like bodysuit.



The blonde arrival stopped at the edge of the platform and stared around at the group. There was an uncomfortable silence. Then the newcomer nodded. "Remarkable. You are the originals.”

Everyone exchanged glances. "Is that good?" Para asked.


A pause. "Consider that the universe is large, full of different mathematical interpretations, and other vastly more interesting things," the silver-clad woman said at last. "I'd say without much ado, we can all muddle through without you. So. Can you accept the fact that your methods, your appearances, and indeed your very existence... was inconsequential?"




END SERIES 6

Sunday, 4 May 2014

S6.221 - Ghost of a Chance



The Story So Far: After leaving Fractal City, personified math must deal with a wormhole that could bring them to Statistics... help point the way back home... or destroy them outright.

ParaB was gone. But QT hadn't noticed yet. She was, after all, rather preoccupied, as glowing balls of energy started to get spit out of the temporal crack, flying off towards the mainland. Hyper squinted - it looked like the various spheres contained people. Meanwhile, the wormhole seemed to fight to be released from it's own energy prison, and QT's grip became two handed as she fell to both knees, trying to keep the staff on target.


At first, Hyper thought she was the only one to have noticed Para and ParaB's merging. Then she saw Tangent's face. And Tan's expression of shock and dismay. 'If she feels like that, how's someone like QT going to feel?' Hyper thought. 'As bad as Cosine feels now? Worse?' Her gaze tracked back to the polynomial. 'But what can I do? What can any of us do?'

In an instant, the wormhole was sucked into the large pink ball of energy. It immediately blasted it's way out of their vicinity, through the crack in reality. There was a rush of air, a small pressure wave flooding over the entire isle upon which they were standing. A few more spheres of light were spit out, then the crack started to seal.

'Something. I have to do something before this field shuts down, and Sigma's power is totally depleted.' Hyper decided. 'We already lost Sine, in part because of me. I can't let it end this way again!' She again lurched forwards, this time ignoring the energies that were making her extremities twitch. She forced her way through the magical field. Her hand connected with QT's leg.

For the first time, she sensed her spiritual guide. That is, she felt Sigma's actual existence, as an artificial life form, currently in union with QT. No - more than that. Sigma herself was also the intersection. A proper subset. Hyper further sensed within herself, the potential for joining... but she couldn't do it now, not after the huge effort that had occurred. That said, she could make QT and Sigma aware, and offer them an injection of her own power...

QT's gaze snapped over towards Para's form on the ground. And she knew. "No," she whispered. The crack in the air became a small fissure, temporal energies being sucked back inside. "NO!" QT repeated, her whole body starting to shake. "ParaB! This can't be happening... this can't be happening!!!" There was a final brilliant flash of lightning, then the pink energy ceased production at the end of the staff. The residual static charge in the air began to lift.

"Sigma!" Hyper choked out. "DO IT!"


By our powers combined...

The red crystal in QT's bow flashed purple. "Barrier Jacket! Mean-median mode!" came the AI's voice. QT's appearance changed, and her staff, which had really just been an extension of her factored form, shrank down and morphed. It became a double crescent moon wand, the polynomial's hands automatically extending it out towards the parabola. "Unsealing," the Sigma jewel declared, with Hyper mouthing the words.

ParaB's form started to reappear, getting pulled back out of Para. The blonde let out a cry of pain, then bit down on her lip to suppress further outbursts. Slowly, the orange haired parabola was yanked back into existence... only to be thrown down onto the ground as the fissure fully collapsed, the improbability field surrounding the group snapping back out of existence.

QT's eyes went hollow. She collapsed sideways, out cold, her cat ears and other regular features returning as both her wand and jacket disappeared. The jewel popped out of her bow and reformed as a cube as it rolled across the ground. The cube was dimly lit; Sigma's inner glow was practically nonexistent. "QT," ParaB gasped, crawling forwards and reaching out towards the unconscious blonde.

Her hand passed right through the polynomial. ParaB froze in shock.

"Damnit!" Hyper cursed. "Not QUITE enough juice left."


"What... what just happened?" ParaB asked, lifting her palms up to stare at them in confusion.

"A pretty impressive conic-polynomial joint venture," Hyper said, flopping back on the ground herself. She preferred to think of it as a preference for staring at the sky, rather than admitting to being drained of energy herself. "Which allowed us to grab hold of your spirit." She frowned. "But that's all we got. So I'm afraid you've become a ghost."

ParaB again tried to touch QT. She then reached for Hyper, but both times, her hand and arm passed right through them. "What? I'm a... what?!?"

"A-At least you're a friendly ghost?" Tangent offered up, hoping to lighten the mood.