SH: My enjoyment of mathematics goes back farther than I can remember. When I was a child my father would pose to me arithmetic challenges, two digit by two digit multiplication, three digit by two digit division, and the like, and I would solve them in my head. Actually my mental arithmetic skills have greatly declined since I was a child. Then as I grew older I actually lost a decent amount of my mathematical inclination, I still did well in the classes, but they brought me little joy, I was planning on doing political science or software engineering when I grew up. There then came a moment, which I wrote about at Second-Rate Minds, where I realized that when I got bored I started solving mathematical equations that made me realize that I was going to study mathematics.
While attending university for mathematics I found that my favorite areas of mathematics were very discrete. Continuous mathematics and I never clicked in the way that combinatorics, graph theory, and finite state machines and I did. Then as my studies progressed it became clear that those were the classes where I most enjoyed the class work, my thesis was graph theoretic as well, I wanted to know about every area of mathematics. Not necessarily how to achieve results in every area, but I wanted to know the history, application, and importance of every area. Then I wanted to talk about it. More than anything, I just wanted to talk about mathematics.
MM: What is the inspiration behind Relatively Prime?
SH: I had been creating mathematical podcasts for years. I had an irreverent panel show that tackled a new mathematical topic every show called Combinations and Permutations, an interview show called Strongly Connected Components, and a weekly news show called Math/Maths. Really that should be enough for any one person. It was not for me. My main problem is that I listen to way too many podcasts and radio shows. When you fill your head every day with things like Radio Lab, This American Life, 99% Invisible, Snap Judgment, The Memory Palace, Love+Radio, On the Media, Planet Money, and Bullseye you want to live up to the standards that they set. All of my shows were just things that I hammered out in my spare time, I wanted to do a show that had actual production values and used some of the tricks and techniques that I heard my heroes on other shows use. Oh, and no one had done anything like those shows for mathematics and I knew that I wanted to hear a show like that and I assumed that meant that other would too.
MM: What are your goals and hopes for the show?
SH: I wanted people to listen. That is really the only goal I have ever had for any of my shows. This time its seems that I may have actually succeeded. I knew that the show was not doing too badly given the site view statistics, but when I went onto iTunes and checked the top shows in the Science and Medicine category and found Relatively Prime sitting at number 4, well I was rather shocked. Not as much as when I found out it was ranked 89 in all of iTunes US. The next day I found out that I was also in the top 10 list for Science in the UK and Canada. I look forward to seeing what my numbers will be after I release the second episode.
Almost forgot, I am also hoping that this podcast may help me get a job, or bring in funding to make the work that I do online into an actual career. Any help with that would be greatly appreciated.
MM: What was the most exciting/unexpected/eye-opening thing you learned while making Relatively Prime?
SH: I learned that there are frogs that live in ditches in Quebec, and they are very tasty pan friend. I learned this while on a 78 hour Greyhound bus trip from Baltimore, Maryland to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Also, rather unsurprisingly, I learned that super-long bus trips are soul trying experiences.
MM: How did you choose the topics you’re covering in Relatively Prime?
SH: I had never tried anything as ambitious as Relatively Prime, so I stayed near topics that were already close to my heart. Some were stories that I had heard about and always loved, but felt that no one had covered to the extent that I wanted. Others were based more off knowing that a person would tell a good story, or give a good interview, and just asking for some of their time. I had planned out around nine topics before I conducted a single interview. I think five of those topics actually ended up being made. Sometimes I just could not get the interviews that I needed, others the material just was not compelling enough to make an entire show, and one time I did an interview that was only supposed to be part of a larger show, one I had already interviewed people for, and the interview was so good that it became a show in and of itself.
A good example would be the first episode, The Toolbox. It was one of the first topics that came to my head, I remember thinking it, “It would be cool if I created a toolkit of modern mathematics for the coming apocalypse.” So I started thinking about what areas of mathematics I think would be important in the future, and immediately game theory and risk came to my head. I knew risk would be a great topic since I could get David Spiegelhalter and Matt Parker, both of whom I had interviewed previously. Game Theory was trickier until I ran across a review of a new book entitled “Game Theory and the Humanities”, and I immediately started to work to get and interview with its author, Steven Brams. The third topic eluded me for a while, until I remembered that my friend Edmund Harriss had helped expand Vinay Gupta’s hexayurt project. Geometrically designed post-disaster housing seemed like a mathematical tool that anyone could use in their toolbox.