The Spectre of Math

December 19, 2012

Interesting calculation

Filed under: Mathematics,Teaching — jlebl @ 5:02 pm

An interesting back of the envelope calculation: UC Irvine is using the differential equations book as standard, that’s a couple of hundred students every quarter, and there are at least a few other places with large and small lectures using the book. A reasonable estimate at the current adoption, there are at least 1000 students every year who use the book. I recently checked on amazon how much does Boyce-DiPrima cost: the new edition is $184 (Yaikes!). It costs $110 just to rent for a semester (a used version was $165). That’s 110-184 thousand dollars a year saved by students, just because of one open book adopted in a couple of large lecture classes. Presumably, the adoption rate can only go up, so this number will go up, just from one of my books (savings from the real analysis book are going to be much smaller due to less students taking that kind of class).

Now I have nothing against the publishers, but they have their incentives wrong. Boyce-DiPrima is a fine book, but … There is really no reason to print big bulky books on expensive paper for these classes. Locally printed coursepacks or cheaply printed paperbacks are much more efficient. And the students might actually keep their books and they might help them along in other classes. Currently most students return their books as soon as they can to recover most of the cost. So if you’re teaching say a PDE class as I did this semester, you can hardly tell them to brush up on their calculus from their calculus book. They don’t have it anymore!

The incentive for me is to simply make the best book because I want to (makes me feel good, that’s I guess all I can expect). Since I make almost no money on it, I don’t really have to inflate page count just to make it more expensive, or add color and pretty pictures just for the hell of it (it would make the book quite a bit more expensive). Plus the book is more accessible. I already know students use the web version even from their phones.

So anyway, I guess I’m providing at least 2 to almost 4 times my salary in free books.

Anyway, if you do want to buy the books (and I make $2.50 on each, yay! I made almost $400 so far, it’s mostly for making me feel good rather than making money), here are the links to lulu:

Real Analysis, $13.09 + shipping

Differential equations, $16.78 + shipping

Yes, I’m a fan of arbitrary looking prices. Actually the reason for those prices is that I simply set the price so that I get $2.50 from the book, so it’s the (cost of printing)+2.50+(lulu’s cut).

December 17, 2012

New versions of books and new genius

Filed under: Hacking,Mathematics,Teaching — jlebl @ 11:47 pm

So in the last two days I’ve put up new versions of both the differential equations textbook (3 new sections, and of course some fixes) and the real analysis textbook (fixes, plus 4 new exercises). And also I’ve made a new release of genius. Actually two of those I just did today when my students were taking their final. The nice things about proctoring tests with small upper division classes is that you can get stuff done. There is no cheating going on. There’s only a few questions, so I had over two hours to burn. Next semester will be quite different. I’ll have two calculus lectures with 250+ students each. Proctoring an exam for that many students is not at all a relaxing exercise (and then there’s the grading … ugh!)

December 9, 2012

Yet another new section in DE book

Filed under: Hacking,Mathematics,Teaching — jlebl @ 7:31 am

In trying to avoid bad mood and keep stress level down, people turn to hobbies. One of my hobbies is working on my textbooks, so I have written a new section on the Dirichlet problem for the Laplace equation in the circle for the differential equations book. See the draft section. The previous section 4.9 is OK, but the solution is far more natural in the circle in polar coordinates than in a square, that is we obtain

\displaystyle  u(r,\theta) = \frac{a_0}{2} + \sum_{n=1}^\infty a_n r^n \cos(n\theta) + b_n r^n \sin(n\theta)

And then we can derive the Poisson formula which is just cool. Also it’s a good example showing more complicated change of variables since we do it in polar, and also it shows a somewhat more complicated and different separation variables.

Part of the motivation was that I did this topic in my PDE class so I had lecture notes and it really felt right for that point in the book, even to leave it as reading to interested students. The other part is that I have been improving the graphing ability of genius so I can do polar coordinates for example:


That’s the graph of the solution u(r,\theta) = r^{10} \cos(10\, \theta), showing that high frequency on the boundary means fast decay as you go closer to the center of your domain.

Though there is no UI for polar coordinates, there is just a function that allows you to plot arbitrary surface data now. Notice how it’s not graphed on a square grid, but above the disc. Also notice that internal rings have fewer points on them, that’s because I just compute fewer values at smaller radii, remember I am passing in arbitrary data, a list of tripples (x,y,z). This will be in version 1.0.16, which should come out end of next week sometime (have to let translators have a go at it). Actually the reason for doing this work on genius was not polar coordinates but showing numerical solutions in my PDE class. It’s just that one of my test cases was polar coordinates and so it just clicked and I thought: I have to write up this section, it’s just too cool to pass up and I can make the graphs now.

This brings the number of pages in the DE book to 315, and the number of exercises to 533. Yaikes! It’s become a beast. I’ll make the new version in a week or two so that it’s usuable for next semester (so if you have comments on the new section do let me know quickly).

I think now a two semester course could possibly be run out of the book. What’s going to be added in the new version is essentially about 5-6 lectures. At my speed the whole thing is now approximately 65 lectures, so a bit less than two semesters worth, but if you go just a tad slower (as many people do), do more examples, and if you factor in exams, reviews, quizzes, etc… it’s just right I think. You’ve got lots of room to spare if you want a two quarter course.

December 7, 2012

Bad memory

Filed under: Hacking,Mathematics,Technology — jlebl @ 6:47 am

So I just remembered, it wasn’t that we thought the computation (see a previous post) would take half a year, it would take 450 days on 3ghz CPU. I guess my memory was being optimistic. I remembered “half a year” when it was really “one and a half a year”. OK, so the computation has now been running for a bit over 2 weeks now on 4 cores. I guess I’m at least 10% there (I hope). It looks a bit worse from the output. It doesn’t seem computers have gotten all that much faster (not at all it seems at least on the load I am trying to do) in the past few years. The only thing better is more cores.

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