Sunday, September 28, 2014

200: Answering Common Listener Questions

Audio Link

Wow, I can't believe we've made it to 200 episodes.  Thanks everyone for sticking with me all this time, or at least for discovering this podcast and not immediately deleting it.   Actually, if we're being technical, this is the 201st episode, since I started at number 0.   But we all suffer from the common human fascination with big round numbers, so I think reaching number 200 is still something to celebrate.  

Finding a sufficiently momentous topic for this episode has been a challenge.  Wimping out somewhat, I think a good use of it is to answer a number of listener questions I have received by email over the past 7 years in which I've been podcasting.   Of course I have tried to send individual answers to each of you who has emailed me-- please continue emailing me at erik (e-r-i-k) at but on the theory that each emailer represents a large number of listeners who are too busy or lazy to email, they are probably worth answering here.

1.  Who listens to this podcast?   According to my ISP, I've been getting about a thousand downloads per week on average.   Oddly, a slight majority seem to be from China, a country from which I've never received a listener email, as far as I can tell.   Chinese listeners, please email me to say hi!   Or perhaps the Communist spies there have determined that my podcast is of strategic importance to the United States and needs to be monitored.  If that's the case, I'll look forward to an elevated status under our new overlords after the invasion.  Assuming, that is, that they don't connect me to any of my non-podcast political writings, and toss me into the laogai instead.

2.  How is this podcast funded?    Well, you can probably guess from the average level of audio quality that I'm not doing this from a professional studio; just a decent laptop microphone, plus some cheap/shareware utilities including the Podcast RSS Buddy and the Audacity sound editor, along with a cheap server account at 1 and 1 Internet.  So I actually don't spend a noticeable amount on the podcast.  That's why rather than asking for donations, I ask that if you like the podcast enough to motivate you, you donate to your favorite charity in honor of Math Mutation and email me.
On a side note, I have fantasized about trying to amp up the quality and frequency and make this podcast a profitable venture.   Many of us small podcasters were inspired a few years ago when Brian Dunning of the Skeptoid podcast quit his day job and announced he was podcasting full time.   However, that dream died somewhat when it was revealed earlier this year that that Brian's lifestyle was partially funded by some kind of internet fraud, and he was sentenced to a jail term.

3.  Why don't you release episodes more often, and/or record longer episodes?  First of all, thanks for the vote of confidence, and I'm glad you're enjoying the podcast enough to want more!  During my first year or two of Math Mutation, I had lots of great ideas in the back of my mind, so coming up with topics & preparing episodes was pretty easy.   But now I'm at a point where I've cleared the backlog in my brain, and now I have to think pretty hard to come up with cool topics, and spend a nontrivial amount of time researching each one before I can talk about it.  This is also combined with many non-podcast responsibilities in my daily life, including a wife and daughter who somehow like to hang out with me, and an elected position on the local school board, at the 4th largest district in Oregon.   So I'm afraid I won't be able to increase the pace anytime soon.  Perhaps in a few years, after I've been tarred, feathered, and removed from public office, and my daughter becomes a teenager and hates me, I'll have a bit more podcasting time though.

4.  Can you help me solve this insanely difficult math problem:  (insert problem here)?   I've received a number of queries of this form.   I'm flattered that my podcasting persona has led you to believe I'm a matehmatical genius of some kind, but to clarify, I would put myself more in the category of an interested hobbyist, nowhere near the level of a professional mathematician.   I did earn a B.A. in math many years ago, but my M.S. is in computer science, and I work as an engineer, using and developing software that applies known mathematical techniques to practical issues in chip design at Intel.   If you're a math or science major or graduate student at a decent college, and have a problem that is challenging for you, it's probably way over my head!   So if you're one of the numerous people who sent me a question of this kind & didn't get a good answer, don't think that I'm withholding my brilliant insights, you've probably just left me totally baffled.   And you're probably way more likely to solve it than I am anyway.

5. What other podcasts do you listen to?   To start with, I don't listen to other math podcasts.  This is partially because I'm afraid I'll be intimidated at how much more professional they are.   But mostly I'm worried that I'll subconsciously remember them and accidentally repeat the same topic in my own podcast, as humans are prone to do.    I do avidly listen to podcasts in other genres though.   As you might suspect from some of my topics, I'm a big fan of the world of "science skepticism" podcasts, such as Skeptoid, QuackCast, Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, and Oh No Ross and Carrie.   Those are always fun, although occasionally a bit pretentious in their claims to teach other people how to think.   I'm also a bit of a history buff, really enjoying Robin Pierson's "History of Byzantium", Harris and Reily's "Life of Caesar", and the eclectic "History According to Bob".   Rounding out my playlist is the odd Australian comedy/culture podcast "Sunday Night Safran", where a Catholic priest and a Jewish atheist have a weekly debate on cultural issues.

Anyway, I think those are probably the most common questions I have received from listeners.   I always love to hear from you though, so don't hesitate to email me if you have more ideas, questions, or requests for the podcasts.   If I receive enough emails, I might not wait until episode 400 before doing another Q&A. 

And this has been your math mutation for today.