Septivium Learn about everything


Hey, long time no see. How are you? Learned anything new recently?

I just came across this blog post by Frank Chimero in which he praises the New York Times’ Elements of Math blog and the BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects (a radio series and podcast).

The latter is a bit wide-ranging to be useful for learning a particular subject (history), but the former seems like a good start at an accessible course in learning maths. It’s brief — only 15 posts — but accessibly written.

But Chimero looks for the common factors in both and comes up with a list that he thinks makes them both work:

  • Familiar subject matter. Probably addressed at some point in varying depths during schooling.
  • Seriality
  • Automated delivery, through RSS or Podcast (which is still RSS, but still).
  • Medium-format. A lengthy blog post or a 10-minute piece of audio.
  • Lush and illustrative. Strogatz [in Elements of Math] uses atypical examples and lots of imagery and some videos in his posts. A History has interviews and great storytelling, and sometimes feels almost like a Radiolab for the humanities. Oh, and that whole interactive website thingie where you get to mill about the precious artifacts.
  • The content does not exist inside a vacuum. References to the outside world are welcome and encouraged.
  • There is a specific tone to these. They feel like a kind introduction to these topics starting at square-one, but do not make the presumption you’re an idiot. Almost like a “…for Dummies” book that doesn’t think you’re a dummy.
  • The presumption is the listener or reader is absorbing these mostly out of curiosity and thus self-educating themselves in the process. So it’s educational, but there’s no homework.
  • Curated. This is the big one. The scope is limited, and the content presented in a logical order through a narrative. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. And through it all, you are guided by a story which gives a desirable linearity to the whole thing.

Chimero sees these as a new delivery format for curated educational materials — he calls them SurveyCasts — suited for periodic consumption via the internet. So that’s worth thinking about.


I know this is a somewhat predictable thought from a founder of newspaperclub. But I wonder if a newspaper might be an interesting format for a curated set of articles/pieces on a particular topic of ‘study’.

Posted by Russell at 11pm, 26 December 2010 #

It might be, but I think the printing format isn’t really a problem – making or finding the content is the hard bit.

Posted by Phil Gyford at 3pm, 27 December 2010 #