Friday, April 22, 2011

An Open Letter to the Math Guy

Following on a recent post about annoying ancillary things we wouldn't miss while on sabbatical, I propose that today we each think about the most trivial annoying thing that routinely afflicts our working lives. Something so small that we might not think it is worth trying to fix. We might even be embarrassed to mention it to anyone but a very close friend or the blogosphere. It might not even make our list of Small Things We Would Not Miss while on sabbatical. And yet, if this annoying small thing went away, life would be better.

Then it would be good to think of a way to eliminate this little annoyance. Maybe we can't solve the tera-problems, but maybe we can eliminate a nano-problem or two. This is what I recently tried to do with a nano-problem.

There was one small thing that was annoying me every single week before a certain class. Instead of dealing with the problem right away, I wrote the following letter in my head each week for many weeks, but never sent it. Eventually, when an opportunity finally arose, I talked to the intended recipient of the letter in person and temporarily fixed the problem that way. Life was definitely nano-better when the nano-problem was temporarily solved, but now I'm back to square one, so I was thinking about these types of little annoyances again today.

Here is the letter I wrote in my head:

Dear Math Guy,

We teach in the same classroom on the same days. There are no other classes in that room between your class and my class, and that is how I know that YOU are responsible for leaving the boards covered (covered!) from top to bottom, left to right, with Math Writing.

The problem (for me) is that you don't erase what you write. Ever. Who do you think erases the board of your equations and annotations?
You may not know or care, but I will tell you anyway: I erase the board of your writing. I erase the board at the beginning of my class because I have no choice if I want to write on the board during my class as well.

Oh sure, the students would probably love it if I did not erase the board and instead just projected a series of text slides that they could copy into their notes -- who doesn't love a class consisting entirely of text slides? And if they were bored, they could look at your Math Writing. I could show text slides, but every once in a while, I like to mix it up a bit and write and sketch things out.

Clearly you like to do the same thing when you teach. Maybe we have a lot in common in our approach to teaching. Maybe we would even like each other if we met in person. But we have not met yet, and therefore, at the beginning of every class, I loathe you for a few minutes in absentia.

Perhaps you think I am unreasonable for being annoyed, and that instructors should just be prepared to erase the board at the beginning of class. What's the big deal anyway? Well, for one thing, we have the awesome luck to teach in one of the few classrooms that still has a chalkboard and chalk. Perhaps I wouldn't be so annoyed if it were just a matter of erasing dry-erase marker on a white board. Instead, I end up sneezing and covered in chalk dust at the beginning of my class rather than at the end, and I find that unpleasant.

You may be surprised to know how much you are annoying the person who teaches in that classroom after you. I am sure you don't even think about the effect your non-erasing habit has on the next instructor. You finish your class and you leave, exhilarated or depressed, and probably quite tired after all of that writing and talking.

Even so, I am writing to ask you to take a few minutes to erase the board of your own writing before you exit the classroom. And then I will no longer loathe you for those few minutes each week, and that will surely be a relief to us both.


Thanks in advance for erasing,

FSP



During the brief time when this nano-problem seemed to be solved, I was in a much better mood when I started my class. I could start the class with the key points I wanted to make at the beginning, rather than spending the first few minutes with my back to the class while I erased the board and got covered in chalk dust. Life was definitely better.

Now Math Guy has returned to his evil ways, and I am back to writing this letter in my head (and in this post) until I get a chance to talk to him again. Either that, or the academic year will just end, as it surely must eventually, I will quickly forget about being annoyed about such a small but pernicious thing.

67 comments:

Liberal Arts Lady said...

I have this problem right now, for the first time. Apparently the math guy "always does this" and it is generally accepted and expected behavior from him. I was not planning on talking to him, unless I happen to teach after him again once I get tenure.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

The important thing is, is he the only person that does this? What is the prevailing culture of the place?

Where I am, it is pretty normal to erase the board yourself before you begin. (The cleaning crew do wipe it in the morning, but after that you're on your own.) I haven't given it a thought, or heard anyone complain, or (I admit) thought of rubbing out the board when I'm done. If the next teacher had had a word with me, I may have thought about it, but it's never happened. Perhaps the math guy too rubs out the previous guy's work before he starts, and just doesn't think about it all that much?

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Here the convention is that you erase the board before you use it, and leave the writing up and the end of class so that slow note takers can continue to write after class is over.

Everyone expects to erase the board at the beginning of class. Erasing at the end of class would seem like you have something to hide about your course—that you don't want anyone to see what terrible things you've been doing.

If you were to complain about another instructor leaving the board full, they would think that you were weird and petty. Maybe that's what Math Guy thinks of you.

EliRabett said...

There are two ways of dealing with this. The passive aggressive way is to go into the room before his class and write on the board in big letters:

Teachers, please clear the board at the end of your class so that others may use them without picking up after you.

Or, you could simply talk to him as he exits the room in various gradations of friendly or not friendly.

Anonymous said...

If the room's free & you have time, go and put up Science Writing all over every square inch of the board(s) before Math Guy's class.... Childish? Yes. Time consuming? Yes. A tiny bit evil? Yes. Fun? Oh yes!

toomuchcoffeeman said...

Speaking as a Math Guy, who still prefers blackboard and chalk to whiteboards...

... I think the Math Guy who is not erasing the board just lacks basic manners/courtesy. Most of my teachers had the civility to clean up after themselves before the next class, and I have tried to follow their lead.

(I would suggest telling the Math Guy that he is being a bit of a tool, but experience confirms that Math Guys do not always take the hint.)

Chris said...

In school it would be on the students to erase the board between lessons. Unfortunately you don't have that kind of power over students at university (problem solved if you do).

Anonymous said...

Only one way to fix it. Get into the classroom half an hour before his lecture starts and cover the board. Then he will get the message.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

Wow. I view this as a "societal convention" -- erase boards before you start class, or erase boards when you finish class -- and every place I've been has been an erase boards before you start class place. So you erase the boards of who was there last. There is, I think, good reason for that; when I end class, often there's a student with a question, or a meeting I have to run off to, so cleaning the boards isn't on the agenda. On the other hand, it's easy for me (and I assume others) to come to the classroom a few minutes before class starts during the transition time to prep for class, including erase the chalkboards. (Indeed, what bothers me is people who have their class run over time, so I can't come in and erase boards or otherwise prepare so I can start my class on time!)

So I think your being peeved at the Math Guy is a little strange. I think it's reasonable for you to ask him to erase the boards as you did, but you may have to remind him. And he may think you're odd, going against whatever his department norms are.

keri said...

I was laughing throughout your entire post....last year, I was a TA for a class that was held in a room with chalkboards, and instead of dealing with our own version of Math Guy himself, the professor charged the TAs with wiping down the boards before class. Which meant that we were disheveled and covered in chalk before class even began - no way to promote respect for the TAs!

Anonymous said...

omg! I demoed a class with my thesis adviser once, and at the end of class he just left. I said, "um... shouldn't we erase the boards before we go?" and he said "Oh, no! The cleaning staff takes care of that." I wonder if he was wrong and some poor person after him was in your shoes every day he taught!!!

Anonymous said...

Leave him a note on the board before his class
"Considerate people erase the board after them".
or
"Eating, drinking, and leaving chalk on the board is not permitted in this classroom".
The students will not understand, but he will ;)

Anonymous said...

Oh come on. This is nano indeed, and not even completely fair. Clearly if everyone wrote on the board, there would be two fair ways to do it: everyone erases their stuff at the end, or everyone erases the last person's stuff at the beginning. Neither one makes more sense than the other, and the latter is clearly going to be the default, as you have no choice but to erase if the last person doesn't. If the person before math guy doesn't erase their stuff, and you want math guy to erase his stuff, then math guy has to erase twice, which isn't fair, so you would have to talk to the person before, etc....

Anonymous said...

Unerased boards is a small but definitely annoying thing. I always erase boards after my class, and frequently have to do so before my class as well. But I haven't gotten around to composing unsent letters. I just wish everyone did the erasing - one can always wish!
MM

Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean. It drives me *nuts* when the person teaching before me doesn't erase his/her board and I've got to do it - and I never really understand why it never occurs to him/her to do so.

Topher said...

It's funny, because I don't mind the fact that the professor in the classroom before me doesn't erase the board. Partially because I am nosy about what else is taught in my classroom, but also because I use that time to ask for any questions, either from the previous class or from the homework. They know that once I have a clean board and have handed back anything I need to hand back, it's full steam ahead, so they take advantage of this.

Of course, my husband disagrees with me, and we have had many debates over whether or not one should erase the board when finished. For the record, there are no classes in my room after mine, and the board is cleaned by the maintenance staff, so while I don't erase my board when I am finished, I don't think I'm bothering anyone.

Anonymous said...

Assuming everyone wants a clean board, there are two Nash equilibria for clearing chalk from the board. Everyone cleans up after, or everyone cleans up before. Any other way, and someone will have a dirty board during their class. But these two equilibria are not the same. If everyone cleans up after, it only takes one "defector" to ruin it for someone else; if everyone cleans up before, though, then no one ever suffers.

Of course, then you have to teach sneezy and covered in chalk... For what it's worth, at my university, people regularly teach with other class's markings on the board.

Anonymous said...

An Open Letter to my commute

I know that you are generally pretty brief. But that's just the problem. The slightest issue on these all-to-small roads and my time with you doubles. So if you could, when you see me coming have all the buses pull off the road, and students cease from crossing the street. I know they are trying to get to class but there are just so many of them. While you're at it turn all the lights green. There are too many of them anyway. This could save me upwards a 15 minutes per day. Time I could be spending reading science blogs.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 3rd yr asst prof and, apparently, the older prof in the office next to me hasn't figured out how to use the internet - or at least how to navigate our university's administrative system for things like downloading PhD applications, teaching evals, funding records, etc. He frequently enters my office and asks me to look things up for him... Any given event is not excessively time consuming... Add them all up...

Anonymous said...

love it. i wish you could send that email! i have nothing to offer for my nano-annoyance, but I'm sure I'll think of it at some later date when its too late to join in the wrath party.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I think we must teach right after the same person. My math person, however, writes so incredibly hard on the board I literally have to work on it for about 2-5 minutes just so what I write will be legible to my students. I sincerely hate this person.

Siz said...

I think we must teach after the same person. I sincerely hate this math guy. He leaves the board filled with math, top to bottom and side to side. He also writes so incredibly hard that I have to work for about 2-5 minutes to get the board clean enough such that what I write will be legible to my students. Fortunately, I have a creepy kid in my class with a crush on me and he has now taken to erasing the board for me.

plam said...

Last year, there was a mathematician teaching in a classroom before me. He did erase the whiteboard, but he applies a lot of ink to the board, so his erasing job wasn't complete. (I need to remove smudges on the board before starting.) But, I know a lot of mathematicians and figured out who it was.

Pagan Topologist said...

I dont think this is a nano problem. It is more serious than that. I have adopted the (admittedly silly) policy of erasing the board at the beginning of class or at the end of class, but not both. It means my workload is the same, but it perhaps means that the person teaching an 8:00 am class can abuse the system.

Psycgirl said...

The most trivial annoying thing that affects my work life on a regular basis is the fact that my department has no network of shared folders. Any forms, templates, policies, or procedures I need have to be hunted down from the secretary, emailed to me, and saved in my own folders for me to hunt down later.

It's stupid but it drives me crazy.

I would be tempted to leave a big chalk note for Math Guy before his next class - one he has to erase to do his teaching ;)

Meena Mahajan said...

Hey, Rahul,

I'm in the same place as you. But in a different group, that uses different class rooms. And in our group the norm is: clean up after your class!

mjphd said...

I would like BioRad to go back to the old things to remove at the bottom of their precast gels (I'm not sure what the things are called...it's just a thin piece of plastic).

The old things had a piece that was not stuck to the plastic, making it really easy to remove. The new ones (by "new" I mean for some time now) are completely stuck to the plastic. This requires having to use a needle, forceps, or some other sharp instrument to get under the thing and peel it off. It only adds 10-30 seconds (depending on my skills that day), but it can be a frustrating 30 seconds. Multiplied by however many gels I'm running that day.

GMP said...

I had this problem once, and ended up emailing the guy before me about it (he was always deep in conversation with students when I would get in to start my class). He did erase the board for a couple of weeks after that, but then went back to his ways. People either care or they don't.

gasstationwithoutpumps, at my uni the unwritten rule is to leave the board clean for whoever's next. Similar to cleaning the dryer lint trap after you're done with a load of laundry, so it's ready to use next time.

Andrea said...

We don't have a norm at my uni so some people do it before and some after. And alot don't use the whiteboard at all. I confess I do not clean up after myself. But I like it when others leave their stuff on the board. I like to see what kind of notes other fields have on the board and it makes me feel connected to the process of other profs. My nano peeve is the students who come up before class to ask me questions while my head is down in the smart box trying to get the technology up and running for the day. I know it seems like a great time to them but people... my head is literally in a box! (and I always close down and put away everything in the smart box. Maybe I am technobiased!)

Anonymous said...

My nano problem of the week is a chatty janitor. He's a nice guy, but ever-so-slightly creepy, and he often wants to talk about random things (such as how many people in our town are gay, how genetics vs environment and experience affects our view of the world, etc.) in my office when I arrive in the morning. I understand that he has been alone in the halls since the early morning, and is looking for a little company. But I have taken to hiding in my office with the door closed when I first come in so he won't come bug me. I feel badly about it. I know he's lonely and just wants someone to talk to. I know I'm a horrible person. But my life would be nano-better if we could limit things to short, friendly, impersonal conversations.

Anonymous said...

It's common for mathematicians to leave their chalkboards unerased! There's even a story of a famous mathematician who used the erasing time before lectures to plan out his thoughts.

A math professor when I was an undergrad established rules: before the lecture, students were required to erase the boards, and arrange the sliding boards in the correct order.

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall that at my undergrad university there was a paid position for undergrads to clean the blackboards before each major lecture class. I think these were paid for by the departments holding these classes (usually just the huge 200+ freshman lectures), but if it really annoys you, you might consider hiring an undergrad for a nominal fee.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Meena - well, this is a good place to discuss this :) Suppose we did use the same classrooms, and I followed you and wasn't entirely attentive to a request to clean up after you - how much would that bother you? Enough to rant on your blog?

Going by the comments, there seem to be two distinct camps here, and - remembering my student days - I think I agree with the 'don't rub the board' crowd (regardless of my personal practice). I remember one teacher who'd rub the board literally after every sentence he spoke. It was very annoying. If the math guy's board is as densely covered as FSP says, his students likely need a lot of time to transcribe it...

Anonymous said...

Only men are okay with standing with there butt towards a full classroom and vigorously erasing a board for 3 minutes. No woman would ever want to do that, and would vote for the erase-it-yourself after the class is over rule.

My nano problem:

Dear students: Please do not ask me to solve your homework problems for you one minute before class starts.

fubarator said...

My "math guy" erased his boards all semester until the day his students stayed late working on their first exam. That's when he stuck around long enough to see who taught the next class.

Then the boards were never erased. He must have decided there was no reason to fear me, but he was wrong.

MathTT said...

At my U, there are actually signs in the classroom asking profs to make sure desks are put back in rows and boards are erased for the next class. So when math guy does this to me, it is (1) in rather obvious violation of the local norms, and (2) awkward because I am TT math chick. So I can't really do the confrontation. I don't know if it would bug me so much if the signs weren't there.

(And it's not true that "erase it before" is better on fairness... the first class of the day undoubtedly starts with clean boards. If we all left it the way we found it, "erase after" would be the norm.)

MathTT said...

My real nano complaint, though, is loud graduate students.

Dear Grad Students Across the Hall,

I get that you guys are really, really excited about math. Math is super exciting for me, too! That's why I'm here late on Thursday (or on a Sunday or whatever) working on my research. The fact that you are YELLING to each other about the awesome stuff you're learning is really disruptive to my work.

You are in the same office. Please use your inside voices. In fact, please use your inside-the-same-small-room voices. We have lots of open space and the tops of every wall have open louvers. You'd be surprised how much your voices carry over to my office, where I was hoping to get some quiet time to work undisturbed off hours.

Remember that you should be cultivating the good will, not the ill will, of the faculty. I have asked you to be quiet once this term already. I really should not have to repeat that. In short, dear grad students, STFU or go to a bar if you want to be loud & boisterous.

Love, MathTT who hates you

Michelle said...

Erasing when you are done versus before you begin are not equivalent processes.

The reason to erase them at the end is that the next professor may not be tall enough to reach the top of the board, and so will give her entire lecture with a frieze of Physics Lady's lecture over the top. Decorative or distracting, take your pick! (And the latter is the case when you are lecturing on same material...)

Alex said...

What really gets me is when somebody uses the wrong cleaning fluid on a white board, and it becomes impossible to erase.

Doctor Pion said...

Thoughts:

1) Come to campus early and fill those boards with Science Writing before he shows up for his class. And sign it so he knows it wasn't an error by the janitors.

2) I know one math department where leaving your Beautiful Math on the boards was common practice, sort of like dogs marking their territory. Only the incompetent erased their work at the end of class.

I also recall one organic chemistry prof who left beautiful multi-color 3d stereo-isomer drawings on the board for the admiration of others who lacked similar skill.

3) On our campus, it is considered very bad form to not wipe down the so-called dry "erase" boards to remove the smear for the next person.

4) You could invoke the ADA and file a formal complaint if you weren't tall enough to reach the top of the board.

Female Science Professor said...

I can't reach the top of the board to write easily, so the top lines of Math Guy's math always stay during my class, but this doesn't bother me.

Female Science Professor said...

I don't buy the 'students need time to write it all down' explanation. If students are still writing when Math Guy wants/needs to leave (there are never any students in the room when I arrive, but I don't get there the second he is done), he could ask them to erase the board when they are done.

Anonymous said...

This isn't an academic nano-problem, but I wish there were a law that anyone who sends an e-mail announcing that a person has won a million dollars or pounds or euros or whatever has to pay up.

Pagan Topologist said...

After thinking about this further, it is at least a milli problem. Nano is too small to be accurate.

Anonymous said...

WTF? FSP seems to talk about a male colleague simply as "Math Guy" while she reminds everyone that she is Female Science "PROFESSOR".

So you think male faculty should be called "guys", but women faculty should be called "professor".

Is it possible you are being sexist here?

Female Science Professor said...

It's possible, but since the person in question is a grad student, I thought I'd call him "Math Guy" instead of "Math Grad Student".

Anonymous said...

Sincere, curiosity-based question for Anon 7:08 -

Were you similarly outraged when FSP was called "Mrs" at a professional conference by people who knew that she was a professor?

jb said...

I had this problem last semester and after the first couple of times, (interestingly, it was a math guy as well. Is this a common affliction for them?), found out the prof's from the university class schedule and emailed him about it. I received an apology pronto and the board was always clean after that.

Anonymous said...

My nano complaint is that one of the lectures that is held in the classroom across the hall from my office involves a LOT of noise. One day it was screaming and yelling (a movie I hope!) and others it involves loud music. I find it very distracting.

Aegerine said...

I had this problem (it was a grad student teaching the first half of a course for his supervisor). After grousing about this for a couple of weeks, I went to visit him in his office. I said I followed him in the classroom and had a request - to which he immediately said "You want me to erase the board". Yup. And he did after that. But it just shows that he really knew he should have been doing it in the first place. --- Another FSP

kelli said...

FSP, do you only fill the boards up once? I erase many times during the course of a (math) lecture, so I find it weird that it bothers you to get chalk on yourself at the beginning. For me, even if I didn't get all chalky right before my lecture, it would only be a short delay. (I have the bad habit of forgetting not to wear black on teaching days, but that is another story.)

Anyway, I am used to erasing at the beginning of class and not the end. I would think someone was fairly eccentric if they went to the trouble of asking me to erase at the end, but I would probably do it. (Well, I'd inevitably forget some of the time.)

Anonymous said...

1)I don't think it is unreasonable to pick up after ones' self.

2)This debate reminds me of how do you leave the toilet seat when you have finished your business.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe how many people here think it's acceptable to leave their board for others to clean up! At every university where I've taught, the norm has been to clean up after yourself. It just seems rude not to. You made the mess, you clean it up.

inBetween said...

do you have a grad student teaching assistant? One of mine gets assigned the job of erasing the board before AND after class. This idea that you leave your writing up after class to prove you have nothing to hide sounds really insecure show offy to me. These math guys just want you to be imprssed with their equations, as if it says something about thhe size of their private parts...

cackleofradness said...

Time for a passive-aggressive note FSP! Not email-- make a sign or two--hand one at the front of the room and one right at eye level pasted near the door for math dude to see on the way out. Make it delightfully annoying-- "Don't forget to erase boards before leaving! Thx!"

Ms.PhD said...

I think this is a gendered problem. Men have trouble remembering what we tell them. Telling him in writing will help, according to cognitive science studies that claim men learn better by reading than by listening. I like the suggestion to leave him a nice note. Maybe accompany it with some brownies. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down! The time after that, send him a nice email. Expect to have to keep nagging him.

Anonymous said...

@Anon at 7:34

Your inability to recognise sarcasm is amazing.

My comment was directed at FSP and female academics like her, who seemed overly obsessed with titles. Some of her commenters go nuts over someone not calling them "doctor". I am, frankly, embarrassed if someone calls me Dr. or Professor. Most of us "scientists" on this board are mere flies... we know that. Our research will probably ...suck ass.

I thought someone like FSP who talks so much about titles should have given an explanation before using the term "math guy", but thats what happens when you believe sexism can only exist in one direction.

As for the truly deranged types like Ms. PhD, I think she should apply to UCLA once Sandra Harding retires. Her math skills are best described as "slightly below high school junior level" and a career slamming Newton's calculus as being sexist (and rape inspiring) may be perfect for her.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I don't think you were being sarcastic. I think you were just being mean.

I think you are also confusing FSP with some of her commenters and with the "deranged" Ms. PhD. If you reread the recent post about titles, you'll see that the point is that she doesn't think women should be called "Mrs" in professional meetings if the men are being addressed by their names or academic titles. She even says she is OK with Mrs if the men are called Mr. All of that just makes so much sense to me, it blows me away that anyone could think that was unreasonable and proof of sexism against men. yes I know, you're a troll and we're not supposed to feed the trolls because they are beyond reason.

leylek said...

I'm glad FSP didn't specify in the post that the Math Guy is a grad student. In fact, it was respectful not to mention it because it removed from discussion the possibility that she, a professor, expected the math guy to erase the board for her because he was a grad student.

Anonymous said...

@leylek

Really? What if "MSP" had written this post complaining about "Biogal"?

The underlying assumption is that sexism exists in one direction only...

leylek said...

That would be fine, but not as easy to say as Math Guy. Bio Chick would probably be better than Biogal IMHO. I just asked a friend and she said she'd rather be a Bio Wench. Similarly, Bio Guy doesn't sound right, but how about Bio Man?

Sexism does largely go in one direction, actually. Not entirely, but there's no evidence for the reverse in anything you've mentioned.

Anonymous said...

What bothers me is that this kind of behavior is immediately seen as rude. There could be other reasons, such as a simple lack of time. And what happened to simply asking?

I always get tons of questions in the 10 minutes between my class and the next, so I could either take my time addressing the students properly, or do a half-hearted job while I erase the next prof's blackboards. When said prof is standing around doing nothing and looking bored, I have absolutely no qualms leaving the boards covered in chalk and talking to my students instead.

I generally find it more important to be out of the classroom by the time the next lecture starts, and if that means I can't get to the blackboards, so be it.

GP said...

Why hasn't anyone thought to invent an automatic self-wiping chalkboard similar to those high-tech self-flushing toilets ("SURPRISE!" every time)? I mean if we could put a man (or two) on the moon ....

Bavarian said...

At my old school, they had water and window wipers in each classroom (they type they have in gasstations). At least the blackboards were really clean, and no dust was flying around.

Amanda said...

Oo, do we get to talk about our nano problems now?

1) Loud chewers. My building doesn't really have any common/lounge space for grad students to eat, and the weather outside sucks 90% of the time, so most of us eat our packed lunches at our desks. Several of my officemates are clearly open-mouthed chewers who will spend 30+ minutes loudly smacking, slurping, and crunching. It's irrational but I find it extremely annoying.

2) Leg jigglers. Do they not realize that, at seminars, they are jiggling the entire row of seats and not just their own leg?

Anonymous said...

Maybe you are just intimidated, since you probably got your job based on affirmative action or whatever, and you probably can't do math at a really high level.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Math:

http://ilaba.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/why-im-not-on-mathoverflow/

About severe gender imbalance in a math forum and indifference to it.