## On Teaching Oneself Calculus

Calculus really isn’t all that hard, but it would be a lot easier if they would explain things in the right order.

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Calculus really isn’t all that hard, but it would be a lot easier if they would explain things in the right order.

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Hello. This is a math blog. I am a math blogger. Yes, there is such a thing. There is such a thing now, at least.

This may be a math blog, but I am not a math person. Quite the contrary, in fact. This is the diary of an adventure through mathland, sort of the way that Dante adventured through — well, whether we’re in the Inferno or the Paradiso is a question yet to be determined.

**Who am I? **

I am an ex-lawyer (soon-to-be-ex, as of this writing), and nascent political scientist. I won’t give too much of my personal history here, since I’m trying to keep this thing somewhat pseudonymous. I will, however, probably release information in drips and drabs as we move forward on this romp through the Math Dimension.

I am keeping my identity __weakly secret__. This means that I have told several people who know me in person that this blog exists, and I really don’t care if people figure out who I am. However, I am not going to outright tell people who I am, and I ask that those who do know not go publishing it, either in the comments here or elsewhere. This isn’t a request that I can enforce, but I’m only telling people who I believe are honorable and have respect for my autonomy. I have no particular fear of publicity, and I have no plans to say anything indiscreet here. Nonetheless, I don’t relish the idea of being cyber-stalked based on a math blog. I also reserve the right to decline to disclose various personal details, or to change meaningless ones.

**What is this blog about?**

In just over a month, I return to grad school from a few years in the practice of left-wing activist law, to pick up a Ph.D. in political science from Unnamed Super-Quant Department. Immediately on beginning this happy adventure, I will be in a two-week intensive math course designed to get people who majored in political science in undergrad (*i.e.* people who never took math) to a position where they have enough minimal competence with calculus and linear algebra to survive stats. Then, I will jump straight into several semesters of very difficult statistics and other quant-type courses. I will probably take more methodology/math courses, or teach myself methodology/math type things, thereafter. Here is where I blog the experience. I begin, actually, in the midst of teaching myself (sorta) basic calculus, so that I don’t get overwhelmed by the cram-course.

**Why this blog?**

Girls! Uh. Wait. Maybe not. I have it on good authority that I will never have another date again if I start a math blog. Apparently, my soul will be indelibly stained, so that not even the pseudonym will protect me from social ostracism and leperhood.

So the real reason is to get one of those sweetheart half-million dollar advance book contracts to tell the compelling story of my love affair with lim h ->0 (f(x+h) – f(x))/h. Clearly, the market for this thing is so staggering that merely contemplating it will cause a stroke in the unprepared brain.

Seriously? You want serious reasons? Oh, ok. Primarily, I thought that my trek through math might be interesting or amusing. At worst, it could have the same gruesome appeal as the classic train wreck. At best, it might be some kind of inspiring Disney-movie story of someone who, at last count, hasn’t done a math class in *thirteen years* and his recovery of the mad math skeellz that existed those bakers dozen years ago — honest! I used to be quite good at math and veryaccelerated in it.

Secondarily, I hope to develop a community of math neophytes and the cool math people who love them. (Hey math girls! I’m *single*!) There seem to be many people out there with an interest in math who haven’t gotten around to doing it, and perhaps they can read along and learn something. This is particularly the case if I can lure cool math people into reading this for the trainwreck factor, and then seduce them into talking to the non-math people. And, you know, to helping with any questions that I might have, too. Now, you see my nefarious plot! Uh, or something. In case you haven’t realized yet, being a good sport with a sense of humor will help in reading this blog.

Finally, I hope this will be an amusing artifact of this stage of my life.

**So what’s with the names?**

The title of the blog, *Madness of Fluxions*, is derived from Newton’s posthumous book about calculus, *Method of Fluxions*. I am bringing my madness to Newton’s method. Newton, incidentally, was much smarter and hotter than Leibniz.

The name I’m trying to publish this under (assuming I can beat the software into shape), Johannes Climacus, was originally one of Kierkegaard’s better pseudonyms. Kierkegaard, of course, was the most awesome pseudonymous writer in history (closely followed only by Junius and Publius).

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I expect to be putting quite a few bits of math notation here. Does anyone have any bright ideas on how I can go about doing that? The basic options seem to be MathML (I’m not sure how it works) and just using inline .jpg files. Is there anything better out there? (And does anyone know of any simple, straightforward software that lets you type math symbols and outputs image files directly?)