Summary: Who writes this stuff? A correspondent asked me for some information, and I thought it might be good to preserve it here. Then it kind of took on a life of its own, as a sort of an interview.
As a teenager, I read Isaac Asimov's monthly science and math articles in Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine. I was always struck by his no-nonsense plain English style, and his ability to explain complicated things in simple terms. I'm no Asimov, of course, but I love explaining things, and I've tried to use the same sort of approach that he did.
When I discover something interesting, it’s fun to tell other people about it.
I'm afraid I can't claim the title professor. My first two years out of college, I taught math at a very good private high school in Cleveland; then after a thirty-year gap I was an adjunct instructor at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3), near the Finger Lakes for fifteen years. There I taught mostly statistics, probably upwards of fifty sections.
Pretty much continuously, from my second year of college, I’ve been a computer geek of one kind or another — programmer, technical writer, systems analyst, software project manager, tech support rep, Web designer — as an employee till the mid 1980s, then freelance for a couple of decades, then as an employee again up till the present.
Yes, that means two jobs for significant stretches.
Of all things, it was to sell something. I had written a grep program in the early 1990s, originally modeled on the UNIX text-search facility, but with significant additional features. Shareware was big then, and I thought I would join the trend. Somewhere I read that aol.com and similar addresses didn’t look professional, so I started the OakRoadSystems.com Web site, named after my consulting business.
Once the site was there, I added a couple more shareware programs. But I got interested in what could be done with hyperlinks, and also how easy it was to create articles. As they occurred to me, I wrote articles on a range of subjects, from computer tech to Tolkien to math (of course). The math articles have moved to BrownMath.com, but the others stay at OakRoadSystems.com.
Maybe not “proud”, but I’m pretty happy with these in particular:
Well, Trig without Tears dates back to the 1990s and was hosted at OakRoadSystems.com for a long time. I loved trig in high school, and I’ve always thought of it as my first “real” math course. It bothered me that a lot of people didn’t see the unity of all those identities, and just treated each of them as a Bible verse to be memorized. No wonder people think trig is hard!
So I thought I’d write an online book showing how they could memorize the absolute minimum, and understand where all the rest came from. But for a long time, TWT was more a series of essays than a real textbook. Last year (2016), I finally went through it from beginning to end, reorganized it, and added a lot of material including practice exercises. It’s hosted on BrownMath.com now.
Stats without Tears started as one or two handouts for my statistics students in the early 2000s. Those were hosted on OakRoadSystems.com at first, then on TC3’s Web site. As I taught more classes, I found more and more problems with the textbook I was expected to use — strange omissions, way too many flat-out errors, and too many topics the students couldn’t understand. So I ended up writing more and more handouts.
Early in 2013, I realized that the handouts replaced about half of the textbook. I was killing a significant number of trees each semester, and shuffling all that paper was a nuisance for me and the students. Plus, I hated to ask students to pay $200 for a textbook that we didn’t use big chunks of, and that I didn’t think was very good anyway. So I decided to create a free online textbook, and start using only that for my classes, beginning summer 2013. The existing handouts got integrated into it, and I had to write a ton of new material. But it was ready on schedule.
Students seemed to like it. Of course all of them liked the price, but they really did read it, on their phones even. After starting out on TC3’s Web site, it’s hosted on Brownmath.com.
I’d like to give a shout-out to Benjamin Kirk, who also used the book while teaching stats at TC3. He made many, many helpful suggestions, and the book is much better for them.
Well, I had the textbook and some class assignments hosted at TC3, and other math articles hosted at OakRoadSystems.com. As time went by, OakRoadSystems.com had more articles on math than everything else put together. And hosting at TC3 was getting to be more and more of a hassle. Rather than just put all the math stuff into OakRoadSystems.com, I created a new site, BrownMath.com.
From the beginning, I knew I didn’t want a paywall. At the same time, commercial hosting isn’t free. It was (and is) important to me to keep the site available to everybody without charge, so I put donation links on the pages. Donations have covered the hosting fees, more or less. And it’s heartwarming that people find the material useful enough to make donations when they can read it for free.
It’s been a pleasure to be here, Stan.