Tag Archives: mathematics

Small Groups: An Alternative to the Lecture Method

I ran across an old paper today written by Julian Weissglass in 1976 and it seemed somewhat relevant to our group. It included the following list:

Remarks to Students Learning Mathematics in Small Groups
Remarks to Students Learning Mathematics in Small Groups

Most of the suggestions are fairly straightforward and entail general courtesy. I’m sure most are already aware of and use these suggestions regularly,  but as many in the group are teachers/professors who may be experimenting with flipped classrooms, you may find some of the commentary in this MAA paper from the 1970’s fairly useful, and may want to “borrow” portions for your own classes.

Julian Weissglass Small Groups: An Alternative to the Lecture Method. The College Mathematics Journal, Vol. 7 (1976), pp. 15-20

How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics

For those who are intimidated by the thought of higher mathematics, but are still considering joining our Category Theory Summer Study Group, I’ve just come across a lovely new book by Eugenia Cheng entitled How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics.

It just came out in the U.S. market on May 5, 2015, so it’s very new in the market. My guess is that even those who aren’t intimidated will get a lot out of it as well. A brief description of the book follows:

“What is math? How exactly does it work? And what do three siblings trying to share a cake have to do with it? In How to Bake Pi, math professor Eugenia Cheng provides an accessible introduction to the logic and beauty of mathematics, powered, unexpectedly, by insights from the kitchen: we learn, for example, how the béchamel in a lasagna can be a lot like the number 5, and why making a good custard proves that math is easy but life is hard. Of course, it’s not all cooking; we’ll also run the New York and Chicago marathons, pay visits to Cinderella and Lewis Carroll, and even get to the bottom of a tomato’s identity as a vegetable. This is not the math of our high school classes: mathematics, Cheng shows us, is less about numbers and formulas and more about how we know, believe, and understand anything, including whether our brother took too much cake.

At the heart of How to Bake Pi is Cheng’s work on category theory—a cutting-edge “mathematics of mathematics.” Cheng combines her theory work with her enthusiasm for cooking both to shed new light on the fundamentals of mathematics and to give readers a tour of a vast territory no popular book on math has explored before. Lively, funny, and clear, How to Bake Pi will dazzle the initiated while amusing and enlightening even the most hardened math-phobe.”

Dr. Cheng recently appeared on NPR’s Science Friday with Ira Flatow to discuss her book.  You can listen to the interview below. Most of the interview is about her new book. Specific discussion of category theory begins about 14 minutes into the conversation.

Dr. Eugenia Cheng can be followed on Twitter @DrEugeniaCheng. References to her new book as well as some of her syllabi and writings on category theory have been added to our resources pages for download/reading.

Eugenia Cheng, mathematician
Eugenia Cheng, mathematician

Twitter List of Category Theory Participants

The link below is for a twitter list of all the participants in the study group, (or at least all those I’m aware of presently who have twitter accounts). One can subscribe to the list or individually follow each of those on it as one wishes.

Twitter list of participants in the category theory study group

If you use twitter, please feel free to add your handle as a comment below, and we’ll add you to the list.

A Twitter list help page is available for those who need it.

Commutative Diagrams in LaTeX


With my studies in category theory trundling along, I thought I’d take  moment to share some general resources for typesetting commutative diagrams in \LaTeX. I’ll outline below some of the better resources and recommendations I’ve found, most by much more dedicated and serious users than I. Following that I’ll list a few resources, articles, and writings on some of the more common packages that I’ve seen mentioned.

Naturally, just reading through some of the 20+ page user guides to some of these packages can be quite daunting, much less wading through the sheer number that exist.  Hopefully this one-stop-shop meta-overview will help others save some time trying to figure out what they’re looking for.

Feruglio Summary

Gabriel Valiente Feruglio has a nice overview article naming all the primary packages with some compare/contrast information. One will notice it was from 1994, however, and misses a few of the more modern packages including TikZ. His list includes: AMS; Barr (diagxy); Borceux; Gurari; Reynolds; Rose (XY-pic); Smith (Arrow); Spivak; Svensson (kuvio); Taylor (diagrams); and Van Zandt (PSTricks). He lists them alphabetically and gives brief overviews of some of the functionality of each.

Feruglio, Gabriel Valiente. Typesetting Commutative Diagrams.  TUGboat, Volume 15 (1994), No. 4

Milne Summary

J.S. Milne has a fantastic one-page quick overview description of several available packages with some very good practical advise to users depending on the level of their needs. He also provides a nice list of eight of the most commonly used packages including: array (LaTeX); amscd (AMS); DCpic (Quaresma); diagrams (Taylor); kuvio (Svensson); tikz (Tantau); xymatrix (Rose); and diagxy (Barr). It’s far less formal than Feruglio, but is also much more modern. I also found it a bit more helpful for trying to narrow down one or more packages with which to play around.

Milne, J.S. Guide to Commutative Diagram Packages.

Spivak Pseudo-recommendations

David Spivak, the author of Category Theory for the Sciences, seems to prefer XY-pic, diagXY, and TikZ based on his website from which he links to guides to each of these.

Resources for some of the “Bigger” Packages

Based on the recommendations given in several of the resources above, I’ve narrowed the field a bit to some of the better sounding packages. I’ve provided links to the packages with some of the literature supporting them.

Diagxy: Michael Barr

XY-pic: Kristoffer Rose & Ross Moore

Diagrams: Paul Taylor

TikZ-CD: Florêncio Neves

Is there a particular package you recommend? Feel free to add your thoughts, comments, and additional resources in the comments below.

The Category Theory Site Is Now Live

Platform Choice

I’ve made a few posts here [1] [2] about a summer study group for category theory. In an effort to facilitate the growing number of people from various timezones and differing platforms (many have come to us from Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, GoodReads, and friends from Dr. Miller’s class in a private Google Group), I’ve decided it may be easiest to set up something completely separate from all of these so our notes, resources, and any other group contributions can live on to benefit others in the future. Thus I’ve built Category Theory: Summer Study Group 2015 on WordPress.  It will live as a sub-domain of my personal site until I get around to buying a permanent home for it (any suggestions for permanent domain names are welcome).


We’ve actually had a few people already find the new site and register before I’ve announced it, but for those who haven’t done so yet, please go to our participant registration page and enter your preferred username and email address.  We’ll email you a temporary password which you can change when you login for the first time. Those who want to use their pre-existing WordPress credentials are welcome to do so.

Once you’ve registered, be sure to update your profile (at least include your name) so that others will know a little bit more about you. If you’d like you can also link your WordPress.com account [or sign up for one and then link it] so that you can add a photo and additional details.  To login later, there’s a link hidden in the main menu under “Participants.”

You can also add your details to the form at the bottom of the Participants page to let others know a bit more about you and where you can be reached. Naturally this is optional as I know some have privacy issues. In the notes, please leave your location/timezone so that we can better coordinate schedules/meetings.

Category Theory Blog

Your username/password will allow you to post content directly to the study group’s blog. This can be contributed notes, questions, resources, code, photos, thoughts, etc. related to category theory and related areas of mathematics we’ll be looking at. Initially your posts will be moderated (primarily only to prevent spam), and over time your status will be elevated to allow immediate posting and editing. If you have any questions or need administrative help, I’m easy to find and happy to help if you get into trouble. Most of the interface will hopefully be easy to understand.

For those with questions, please try to read posts as you’re able and feel free to comment with hints and/or solutions.  I’ve created “categories” with the chapter titles from the text we’re using to facilitate sorting/searching. Depending on the need, we can granularize this further as we proceed. There is also the ability to tag posts with additional metadata or upload photos as well.

As appropriate, I’ll take material out of the blog/posts stream and place it into freestanding pages for easier reference in the future. As an example, I’ve already found some material on YouTube and MIT’s Open Course Ware site (Spivak posted his 2013 class using our same text, though it unfortunately doesn’t include video or audio) that may be relevant to many.

For those interested, WordPress supports most basic LaTeX, though I doubt it supports any of the bigger category theory diagramming packages, so feel free to draw out pictures/diagrams, photograph them, and upload them for others to see if necessary.

As an advocate of the open web and owning one’s own data, I highly recommend everyone publish/post their content here as well as to their favorite site/platform of choice as they see fit.


In emails and chatter around the web, I haven’t heard any major objections to the proposed textbook so far, so unless there are, I’m assuming that it should serve most of us well. Hopefully everyone has a copy by now (remember there are free versions available) and has begun reading the introductory material.  Those requiring a bit more mathematical rigor and challenge can supplement with additional texts as I’m sure I and many others will. If you’re posting questions to the site about problems/questions from other texts, please either state them explicitly or tag them with the author’s last name as well as the problem/exercise number. (I’ll try to make them all canonical on the back end as we progress, so don’t worry too much if you’re not sure how or what to tag them with.)

Conference Call Tool

At the moment, most people have been fairly open to the three big platforms, though a few on either Linux or Chromebooks don’t have access to be able to install/operate anything but Google Hangouts, so I’m presently proposing that we adopt it for our group. Nearly everyone in the group already has a gmail account, so I don’t expect it to be an undue burden. If you haven’t used it before, please download/install any plugins you may require for your platform in advance of our first “call.”

Meeting Times

I’ve only heard back from a small handful of people on availability so far, but it doesn’t look like it will be difficult to find an appropriate time.  If you haven’t already done so, please fill out the “survey,” so we can determine a good call time for next week. If necessary, we can do additional times to help serve everyone’s needs. We don’t want to leave out any who sincerely want to participate.

Office Hours

As most of the participants are spread over the United States, Europe, and Asia, I’m suggesting that everyone carve out a standing block of time (we can call them “office hours”) that they can use to be available (via Google Hangouts or otherwise) to help out others having difficulty or who have questions. Since there isn’t a “professor” I’m hoping that we can all serve each other as unofficial teaching assistants to get through the process, and having standing office hours may be the easiest way to catch others for help in addition to the web site itself.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks?

If you have any questions, or I’ve managed to miss something, please don’t hesitate to make a comment below.  I’m hoping to get enough responses by Friday/Saturday this week to post our first meeting time for next week.

[Editor’s Note: This post was originally posted at BoffoSocko.com]