Not the podcasts

I was so tempted by the idea of recording podcasts to accompany IFL. After all, that is a longish book — well over 400 pages, with 42 chapters. There is a lot of signposting as we go through.  But I thought that some student readers might still appreciate a series of orientating chats, giving relaxed introductions to some main topics, which could be listened to over a coffee before tackling chapters from the book. 

But on second thoughts podcasts were of course a dumb idea. We very soon have to start juggling with symbols in logic — and how can we do that in a podcast, without being able to use a blackboard or whatever? A bit of experimentation suggested that the audio format wasn’t going to work very well (even if I included instructions like “look at page 123”). So I’m going to compromise. Yes, we want something that is as relatively informal as a podcast, which is still relaxed, short and snappy. But we also want to be able to use some symbols, or eventually state theorems which you might need to look at twice to understand; so we need  something bite-sized but text-based. Call the compromise a ‘logicbite’ — with an admiring nod to that wonderful series of philosophybites podcasts.

I’ve made a start, and the first five seven logicbites are now online here. They’ve developed in a way I didn’t really plan or predict — but rather than summarize my own words in my own words, I’ve found myself giving quotes (sometimes extensive ones) from other textbook authors, introducing key ideas in their wordsIt is always good for students to hear more than once voice.

And if I quibble with the quoted authors (especially in Logicbite 4, at some length), that’s not because I want to be particularly captious. Rather it is good for students to see it isn’t easy to get things spot on. We want to encourage students to read even logic texts — including mine! — with a sharply critical eye. Anyway, I hope some will find the logicbites useful. (At the moment IFL is being downloaded over a thousand times a month, so I guess some students out there are indeed being directed to it.)

3 thoughts on “Not the podcasts”

  1. I do agree that many follies would accompany trying to produce an audio only companion to the book; I once tried to explain Lob’s theorem to my sister during a very informal discussion about AI without anything to write on and even just trying to say the theorem out loud is difficult to do without ambiguities. However, have you given any though to a short video series? I seem to recall at some point you mentioning it. Perhaps this could be just a suggestion for some time in the future, but as inspiration, Sean Carroll started a series at the beginning of quarantine last year on his youtube channel which I think strikes the exact right balance between self production and quality:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeNSMJtKGc0&list=PLrxfgDEc2NxZJcWcrxH3jyjUUrJlnoyzX&index=2&ab_channel=SeanCarroll

    I think just having a tablet’s screen being captured is enough for something that is aiming for the middle between casual and substantive. You don’t need fancy professional animations since the focus is on actual learning and not engagement and presentation. Multiple of these videos have over 100,000 views even through to the end of the series (the quantum mechanics episode has ~255,000, no doubt because of the subject), and the engagement he got was substantive enough that all of the accompanying Q&A videos had solid questions to continue the conversation. And importantly, the content is still informal enough that it isn’t just a classroom lecture on video (although I’m sure some people, but probably less, would be interested in that too). I think that the format he chose is great, a subject video and then an accompanying Q&A video (although I guess that might be contingent on the amount of engagement the first video gets, to an extent), but even if you were to do much shorter episodes and skip the Q&A episodes, the style of just talking over a tablet’s screen is good enough, which I would argue is countenanced by the engagement his series, and countless others like it, got, and continue to get. People are definitely tied of zoom calls and the like, but video essays and presentations are still thriving despite the burnout. And still, Joel Hamkins uploaded his philosophy of mathematics lectures which were just his local recording of the zoom call of him teaching while writing on a blackboard and most of those have over 1,000 views which given the previously mentioned burnout is pretty gangbusters.

    But all of this isn’t meant to detract from the logicbites idea which I also think is good. I believe the inclusion of multiple different sources helps draw out the crucial ideas in a way that makes them easy to conceptualize as a whole before diving in as well as a summary after.

    1. First, thanks for the link to Sean Carroll’s series. He is very engaging and I found myself admiringly watching the whole first episode (and learnt something too!). It’s a real talent to be able to produce such terrific talks.

      I think though that one thing his video illustrates it how much the success of such video presentations depends on the persona of the presenter. I can think of cases where I’ve just had to switch off videos, not because of content but because of annoying mannerisms and the down-with-the-kids voice, not to mention the silly hair (just jealous!). No doubt the culprits would be equally annoyed to hell by my strangulated posh English cadences and (what they would hear as) exaggerated verbal tics.

  2. Seeing introductions to introductions — GWT for IGT, logicbites for IFL — reminds me of something I quite like that happened with the programming language Algol 68.

    The defining report was difficult to understand and the much more ambitious Revised Report was even more so. And so a book, informal introduction to Algol 68, helpfully appeared. Yet it too was difficult — it had, for instance, a 2-dimensional table of contents — and the authors felt a need for something even more introductory. Consequently, they provided, as Chapter 0, ‘A very informal introduction’, which you are advised to read ‘once or twice’ before going on. It begins:

    Since ALGOL 68 is a highly recursively structured language, it is quite impossible to describe it until it has been described.

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