Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Web Serial: Who

This is a multi part blog series. Excuse me, a serial.
1- The History (What)
2- Teaching Now (Where)
3- *My Contributions (Who)
4- Writing One (How)

As for the why, read. As to when: The time is now. Jump on board.



The last couple of posts have already talked about the Who in terms of other people. It's time to actually hit the climax, which is me, because it's my blog, so there. Also because I've been writing a web serial for coming up to two years now, all about math. (Read it, damn you!)

Of course, I had no idea that's what I was doing.

HYPER: "Damn it, ArcTan, it's just a
bunch of clip art, right?! I mean, really!"
Oh, I knew I was writing a story where all the characters were mathematical relations, and that it was filled with hidden mathematical connections, web links, and puns, but I tended to refer to it as my "webcomic-like web series kind of thing". I finally know it's a math web serial that updates on Wednesdays and Sundays. As it's been going since July 2011, this may be the first time I was ahead of the game for, well, anything.

By the way, if you're a teacher only here for the assessment and evaluation stuff I promised, jump down two subheaders.

Because now that I know I've been writing a serial, I think I know why it's frustrating as heck sometimes. First, because as a serial, every entry should be self-contained. You should be able to jump in anywhere, or start at any point, and pick up the threads. Yet... no one seems to be doing that. Is it not as self-contained as I thought?

Second, because I want "Taylor's Polynomials" to be a dynamic serial, and it's very much static. Not that static is bad - my other grand effort, "Time Trippers", which I recently blogged about, would be a more static variant. Let me clarify what I mean...

I see a static serial as one scripted in advance. The parts are published a bit at a time, but the author already knows the major plot points. Minor details (or perchance major ones) might change based on new ideas, or fan input, but the author knows where they're going with it. Picture, well, I suspect anything by Joss Whedon, which probably extends to the Buffy Comic Book Series too. Speaking of comic books, I think Linkara uses this style in his online review series too. (ie- He has a defined story arc, but it fluctuates according to real life issues such as costuming.)

The opposite (inverse) to a static serial would be something like the X-Files or Lost where even the writer(s) have no clue what they have in mind, or they're changing things so often based on response that the result is a huge dysfunctional mess. Leading to the Chris Carter Effect.

The counterpoint (reciprocal - looks very different) to a static serial would be a dynamic serial. It has not been written in advance. The author has some conflicts or events in mind, but that's it. The details are vague. They'll write more as inspiration strikes. Which describes the writing process for most people, but again, here the early parts are posted AS THEY COME.

This has both huge advantages and huge disadvantages, which I'll go into in my last post in this blog series. For now, suffice to say that "Time Trippers" is a static serial (I know how my time machine works and what happened to Carrie's mother, even if you don't) while "Taylor's Polynomials" is a dynamic serial (Logan's gonna fly around in his gazebo for a while).

Gazebo: Built by Professor X


Something I am very good at is taking inputs and synthesizing them into something that makes rational sense. (I think that's part of what makes me a good teacher.) I am also very good at coming up with reasonable explanations for things completely out of the blue. (I try to avoid doing that to students.) Yet regarding "Taylor's Polynomials", my so-called dynamic web serial, the majority of the input and explanations have come from within, and I want them to be external.

For those who HAVE read my math serial, or who are curious, here's a few things that were completely unplanned from the beginning, and simply morphed out of what I was doing:
-Lyn attempting to infiltrate the Conic Mansion dressed as a Directrix.
-Command Trig (Sin, Cos, Tan) wearing red and Science Trig (their inverses) wearing blue, to model Star Trek.
-Sine doing a mind meld (replicator style) with Lyn, to create a graph that synchronized with Tangent's asymptotes.
-Using the Sign Function (Signum) to point the way back towards the Math Curriculum, because she knows Direction while Modulus (Maud) knows Distance.

Did anyone think any of that had been planned from the start? Nope.

To the credit of the colleagues at my school, I have had a bit of feedback. That's why Para's factored form uses a wand, rather than a cane, and why I was able to discuss elements of mathematics outside of math with the Beta Group in Series 4. But I need more! I want people to tell me if Versine was a worthwhile trig function to use, or whether Para's vertex form looks like Sailor Moon, so I'm not constantly having to discover this stuff all by myself.

Because here's the other thing: You have no idea how much else I'm holding back. Holding back, and keeping things dynamic, in the hopes that a better plan will occur. You might have what I need! Yet, I posted up asking for New Personifications a week ago. I've had 30 views (slightly above average on hits for me), with absolutely no thoughts.

So, yes. I'm frustrated because I want the math-tans to become more than simply MY vision. I want them to be part of a community. (Of course, maybe I'll become frustrated by the suggestions of others...? Uh, at least it's a different KIND of frustration?) It's also possible that I haven't been making that idea clear, but what more can I do aside from constantly blogging about it and asking for commentary? Unless I want to fall into the publicity trap I blogged about last week.


Right, sorry. I'm subconsciously working on serials there too. Admittedly, I'm constrained first by time, and secondly by curriculum expectations, but in my Statistics (Data Management) course, I've been able to pull off a few things. First, here's a rough excerpt from one of my probability tests:

1. When Dorothy first landed in Oz, she learned that the Munchkins liked joining special guilds. Given the following information ... : A) Create a Venn diagram to classify all 300 munchkins. B) Determine the probability that a munchkin is in the Lullabye guild, if you know he is NOT in the Lollypop guild.

2. Before seeing the Wizard, she's advised to bring a gift of fruit. A bag contains 15 apples and 10 oranges. What is the probability she will randomly draw two apples in sequence, assuming: A) She replaced the first apple, thinking it was a bit small. B) She did not replace the first apple, having decided to take two.

3. To defeat the Witch, the plan is to sneak into the Castle. The Scarecrow thinks this has an 85% chance of working. If it works, there's an 80% chance they'll beat the witch, but if it fails, there's only a 5% chance to win. Determine: A) The probability they sneak in, and then are defeated. B) The overall probability of defeating the witch, regardless.

I have another version involving Bingo and Agnes' lucky hat. Now, this is obviously easier to do with some course units as opposed to others. I'm also sure there's some of you out there rolling your eyes saying this is not a rich assessment, it's just artificial scaffolding, and why am I wasting your time. Let me then point you at my prior blog entry, Choose Your Own Exam, which has a rather interesting way of formatting the whole thing.  Helpful?


So, these are the things I have to contribute to the world at large, at least in terms of my own serials. At the time of first writing this (Saturday afternoon), based on prior experience, I estimate a 95% chance that there will be no reader reaction, and hence, next to no change in any aspect of what I'm currently doing - both in teaching and "Taylor's Polynomials". At the time I am posting this (Wednesday evening), I'm thinking that quality trumps any random percent, but also had a day which put me in a very cynical mood, so whatever.  My projections are likely more realism than cynicism anyway.

But maybe you'll have better luck writing your own serial! So I'll talk about how you might do that in the last part of this set. Back in another two days.


  1. Interesting on the static vs dynamic serials. That would place Subject 13 as quasi-dynamic. The arcs are planned (well, semi-planned, which is why I have a roadblock at Issue 30 ^_^;;) but, right now, I have no idea what happens three arcs from now, other than Nasty swears at someone before she hits them. (It's her thing.)

    I did read the request and realized that I didn't know as much about trig functions as you do. In university, given the courses I was taking, it was more how to manipulate the functions than anything else. So, I was integrating and derivating them, working out when they went asymptotic so that machinery didn't go into a runaway condition and explode on people. I didn't think this sort of thing would be useful, despite the colourful description I gave it. I do understand wanting the community aspect. The goal with Subject 13 was to open up a shared universe for a variety of super-type peoples, even if the lead title featured a foul-mouthed tomboy with anger management issues.

    I have been thinking over the three-act structure. I'm wondering if, instead of applying to a course, apply it to each class. Three acts, plus the hook. The hook gets the students in their seats (what is Signum up to?), opening act (Maud takes the initiative in investigating), climax (Maud springs his surprise bungee cake on Signum), and denouement (Signum falls for the old bird in a bungee cake trick). And then leave a cliffhanger at the end of the class to get the students to want to return the next day. The weekly quiz (if you do that) can even be worked into the act structure.

    Or, I could just be crazy. :D

    1. My own distinction, which honestly is easier to see after the fact. (Perhaps in truth all are quasi-dynamic.) Though here's another aspect: with "Time Trippers", I'd have had reservations about posting Part 15 (for example) before I'd worked through details of Part 16. With "Taylor's Polynomials", less to no hesitation.

      For instance, was Nasty always destined to leave town? Leaning static. Was it just something that she (or other characters) decided, so the story went that way? Leaning dynamic. Was she always destined to leave town, but then didn't? Also dynamic.

      As far as requests go, no biggie, I'm more wondering about other educators. I keep telling myself they're thinking 'That's neat, but I got nothing for you' as opposed to 'I'm backing away slowly, you make no sense'. (Dan Meyer at least tweeted at me that he digs the serial metaphor!)

      The 3-act structure IS basically meant to be done in a class, or a week, depending on the depth. I've read blogs, I've seen it in PD, I like the idea, but it's very lack of structure in Step Two unnerves me. Work in progress.

      We're all mad here!

    2. I think I see the distinction. That means, I have a dynamic style of writing - I may have plans, but the reactions of the characters mean that plans have to change on the fly. (Even happened when I was writing from an outline. Does this mean I should just have beats - events to occur no matter what the characters do - as major plot points and fill in the space between beats with a flurry of character reactions?) Nasty was never destined to leave town - it made sense to her (and me) during her escape. (Um, anyone following me shouldn't have read the spoilers there.) Thus, dynamic!

      I suppose I could suggest something to derivate or integrate a Math-tan or two, though I can't think of how it'd go or why it'd happen. Unless one of them uses the ability as a disguise and then gets stuck with a constant follower afterwards.

      Step 2 is the hard part, always. Beginnings are easy, endings are simple enough to aim for, but the building of tension never comes with a guide.

      Huzzah for the madness!

    3. You are also welcome to reinterpret my mind. Hm, I suppose beats are an option? Also, sorry about spoilers. x.x Though speaking of spoilers, yeah, bows are effectively my mathematical constants, one of many things that hasn't come up in my series' yet.

      Step 2 is how teachers have traditionally done it, giving information without the hook in or out. It's all about integration. I was also quoting "Alice in Wonderland" but used straight < braces and so they vanished. -.- Still have lots to learn!