27 votes

Why the world’s best mathematicians are hoarding chalk

28 comments

  1. [6]
    cptcobalt
    Link
    This video is insane. I am kinda obsessive about finding "the one thing for X" that will keep me for the rest of my life. I have similar recommendations for the following: Pencils: You simply must...

    This video is insane. I am kinda obsessive about finding "the one thing for X" that will keep me for the rest of my life. I have similar recommendations for the following:

    • Pencils: You simply must try the Blackwing 602 pencils. I first learned about these pencils from Mary Norris's New Yorker piece about them. These pencils have changed how I write anything, where for quick notes to myself I will most often grab a pencil. The lead is smooth, almost creamy. Replaceable, moveable erasers mean you're not erasing down to an awkward nub, rendering your pencil nearly useless or requiring you to carry an extra eraser if your pencil has run out of erasers.
    • Pocket Notebooks: Field Notes are my pocket notebook of choice. I have been using these for so long, that I take pride in having nicely organized piles of consumed pocket notebooks. I put my daily to-do lists on these. I, most often, use the dot grid notebooks but am fine with most. Field Notes always picks smooth and excellent paper for all of their notebooks, but might not always hold up to some extremely heavy-flow pens. And, the patina a notebook earns from being carried around in your pocket for two weeks until you move onto your next one is just so damn sexy.
    • Large-Format Notebooks: I'm drawn to the Studio Neat Panobook. I've filled two thus far, and like its horizontal format which fits well on my desk above or below my keyboard. These are great for planning large systems but are probably less-than-very-good for artful sketches (but I've used them to sketch icons, web designs, etc). Dot grid format. Excellent paper. Sturdy cover.
    9 votes
    1. [5]
      gpl
      Link Parent
      Any recommendations on pens? I write quite a bit to work out math/physics related things and I tend to use pen. I like the softness of your standard cheap papermates (no gel pens or anything like...

      Any recommendations on pens? I write quite a bit to work out math/physics related things and I tend to use pen. I like the softness of your standard cheap papermates (no gel pens or anything like that), but I’m always looking for suggestion.

      Also, I got Field Notes that I carry with me everywhere, but I never have a reason to use them. Although, to-do lists is a good idea...

      1 vote
      1. cptcobalt
        Link Parent
        I, sadly, don't. I was huge on the fountain pen kick for a bit, and have a few I quite like, but they're expensive and are too high effort (refilling, cleaning, etc). I now have two of the Studio...

        I, sadly, don't. I was huge on the fountain pen kick for a bit, and have a few I quite like, but they're expensive and are too high effort (refilling, cleaning, etc). I now have two of the Studio Neat Mark One pens, but I haven't used them long enough to say they're solidly worth it. I like them a lot, however.

        The trick about Field Notes is to just force yourself to use them a ton. You'll figure out clever ways to put things on the page, and then your subconscious will start reaching for it when you feel like you need it. I can go through several pages a day on top of my to-do lists. You just kinda have to make yourself a paper notes person.

        3 votes
      2. Akir
        Link Parent
        People mentioned fountain pens and then retracted them as being too expensive. But there are some very good fountain pens you can buy for cheap. The pen I use every day is the Wing Sung 698. It's...

        People mentioned fountain pens and then retracted them as being too expensive. But there are some very good fountain pens you can buy for cheap. The pen I use every day is the Wing Sung 698. It's about $20 online, just be sure to buy a bottle of the ink of your choice since it's not included. Just make sure you get fountain pen ink and not calligraphy ink, as calligraphy ink doesn't play very well with fountain pens.

        You can also buy a Platinum Preppy for about $5 including an ink cartridge. That's the absolute easiest way to try out a fountain pen, and it's honestly far better than it should be.

        There are a host of good fountain pens under $20 now. I would also recommend Pilot's Metropolitan and Kakuno pens. If you're willing to spend a little more, Lamy's Safari is also highly recommended, though I don't own one myself.

        2 votes
      3. wervenyt
        Link Parent
        I've gotta step in to recommend fountain pens for writing experience. The maintenance is less than easy, but well-worth it IMO. Now, the price... that's harder to swing.

        I've gotta step in to recommend fountain pens for writing experience. The maintenance is less than easy, but well-worth it IMO. Now, the price... that's harder to swing.

        1 vote
      4. Grzmot
        Link Parent
        I personally use the Lamy AL-STAR every day and it's fantastic. The writing experience is incredibly smooth and it comes in lots of colours to choose from!

        I personally use the Lamy AL-STAR every day and it's fantastic. The writing experience is incredibly smooth and it comes in lots of colours to choose from!

        1 vote
  2. mrbig
    (edited )
    Link
    Cool video. A bit grandiose for such a trivial topic, sounds like advertising. It's fun to learn that every field has its little silly obsessions. Like we programmers discuss Vim vs Emacs vs...

    Cool video. A bit grandiose for such a trivial topic, sounds like advertising. It's fun to learn that every field has its little silly obsessions. Like we programmers discuss Vim vs Emacs vs whatever. My ex was (is) a mathematician in Brazil. There were no chalkboards in the university at all. She even installed a glass panel so she could write math on her living room wall. No chalk.

    8 votes
  3. [4]
    balooga
    Link
    That was interesting! I wish they would've shown a comparison of other chalks up close vs. this brand, so we could better see what's so special about it. I'm actually a bit surprised to see such...

    That was interesting! I wish they would've shown a comparison of other chalks up close vs. this brand, so we could better see what's so special about it.

    I'm actually a bit surprised to see such enthusiasm in general for chalk, when dry erase markers are superior in a lot of ways. They do come with their own class of annoyances, like dryout, but in my opinion they're still better. There are probably premium marker brands that overcome those issues, I'm not sure. I'm not exactly an enthusiast, haha. I do like the way markers glide across a surface with little friction, the evenness of the color, the cleanness of the erase, and the fact that there's no dust to inhale (that can't be good for you).

    6 votes
    1. clerical_terrors
      Link Parent
      As far as I know there's not really a way to prevent dry-out, since it's just how the marker works. There are premium markers but given how much you end up using that'll blow a big hole in your...

      As far as I know there's not really a way to prevent dry-out, since it's just how the marker works. There are premium markers but given how much you end up using that'll blow a big hole in your budget.

      And as I explained in a different comment: being able to leave your writings on the board is a big deal for certain scientific disciplines. Mathematicians working on a new proof aren't going to want to erase all of their work every night before going home.

      7 votes
    2. cge
      Link Parent
      I've only used the Sejongmall version of Hagoromo, but I think it would be difficult to show the difference visually rather than describe it. The lines are better, and, importantly, more...

      I've only used the Sejongmall version of Hagoromo, but I think it would be difficult to show the difference visually rather than describe it. The lines are better, and, importantly, more consistent, than cheap chalk, but actually showing this could be a challenge.

      I think the more important advantages, though, are the feel of writing with the chalk. I've never had it screech, as cheap chalk does, making a consistent line is easy, line boldness can be varied smoothly, and the entire feel as the chalk runs across the board is smooth and consistent, also requiring less pressure. And, of course, there is the thin coating the side of the chalk has, which really does make it far more pleasant to hold: I don't know of anyone who uses holders with Hagoromo.

      4 votes
    3. bbvnvlt
      Link Parent
      Chalk lines can be significantly wider than whiteboard lines. Plus, I know that some people are allergic to the solvents in whiteboard markers.

      Chalk lines can be significantly wider than whiteboard lines.

      Plus, I know that some people are allergic to the solvents in whiteboard markers.

      2 votes
  4. culturedleftfoot
    Link
    Oh, of course there was a family in Japan spending generations crafting the finest quality chalk known to man. Not sure why I would have ever thought otherwise.

    Oh, of course there was a family in Japan spending generations crafting the finest quality chalk known to man. Not sure why I would have ever thought otherwise.

    5 votes
  5. [3]
    gpl
    Link
    I absolutely prefer chalkboards over whiteboards, which is a preference no doubt heavily influenced by the professors I had in college. For pretty much every actual use case, you never need more...

    I absolutely prefer chalkboards over whiteboards, which is a preference no doubt heavily influenced by the professors I had in college. For pretty much every actual use case, you never need more than one color which in my opinion is the one advantage whiteboards have over chalkboards. Often times I leave notes for myself on the chalkboard in my office, which might be hard to erase if it was a whiteboard and left up for a while. But really it comes down to preference - I love the sound of writing on a chalkboard so much more than the squeak of a whiteboard.

    I've actually used this chalk before too. It is super nice quality, and writes very smoothly and evenly. But the biggest perk in my opinion is the 'sleeve' on the stick that stops your fingers getting too dusty. I'm not even sure how they do it really, its more of a coating on the surface than a sleeve of a different material. Regardless, great chalk.

    5 votes
    1. emdash
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Funny, I'm the exact opposite! Chalkboards grate my ears to the point where I can't even hold chalk thanks to the internalised thought of the sound it makes. I luckily never had a lecture...

      Funny, I'm the exact opposite! Chalkboards grate my ears to the point where I can't even hold chalk thanks to the internalised thought of the sound it makes. I luckily never had a lecture involving a chalkboard at university, and likely would've walked out if I had. Then again, I also can't stand the sound of scrunching up newspaper or ripping some forms of cardboard. Even writing this comment makes me recoil a bit as I recall those sounds.

      So yeah, whiteboards all the way.

      15 votes
    2. unknown user
      Link Parent
      Ahhh, nostalgia! I recall the toc-toc--toc-toh-toc from elementary school, that is the sound of maths (and teaching in general) to me.

      I love the sound of writing on a chalkboard so much more than the squeak of a whiteboard.

      Ahhh, nostalgia! I recall the toc-toc--toc-toh-toc from elementary school, that is the sound of maths (and teaching in general) to me.

      7 votes
  6. [2]
    IncreaseTheDosage
    Link
    This feels like an ad. "Chalk is chalk"? No one who ever used a blackboard could think that.

    This feels like an ad. "Chalk is chalk"? No one who ever used a blackboard could think that.

    3 votes
    1. Elronnd
      Link Parent
      That was what I thought, too, but they said the company is out of business and although they did mention another company making the chalk, they never named them. I think they were just...

      That was what I thought, too, but they said the company is out of business and although they did mention another company making the chalk, they never named them. I think they were just over-dramatizing it so people would be more engaged in the video.

      8 votes
  7. [9]
    NecrophiliaChocolate
    Link
    Well... interesting video. I will never be able to understand these people. From pretty much 1st grade I have only seen teachers use whiteboards or smart boards, and those seem way better....

    Well... interesting video. I will never be able to understand these people. From pretty much 1st grade I have only seen teachers use whiteboards or smart boards, and those seem way better. Whatever floats your boat I guess.

    3 votes
    1. [8]
      clerical_terrors
      Link Parent
      Whiteboards are pretty good for things that'll only stay written temporarily, but eventually usury kicks in and your board starts looking like a hazy mess. You also can't leave written notes on...

      Whiteboards are pretty good for things that'll only stay written temporarily, but eventually usury kicks in and your board starts looking like a hazy mess. You also can't leave written notes on them for too long or the marker will dry and erasing will become hard.

      Smart boards are also nifty but fairly expensive, much harder to maintain, and easy to break. I've seen schools switch to them and eventually switch back off them except for a select few rooms because the maintenance was just too much.

      Blackboards have their own sets of drawbacks, but the huge advantage is that you can leave whatever you write on them for a long while. And for people working in these kinds of advanced scientific fields that's a big advantage because they'll usually want to keep their work in progress written on the board for weeks if not months.

      8 votes
      1. cge
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Another enormous advantage is that chalk and chalkboards, unless something has gone very wrong, simply work, and work consistently. If I want to work through something, I can pick up a piece of...

        Another enormous advantage is that chalk and chalkboards, unless something has gone very wrong, simply work, and work consistently. If I want to work through something, I can pick up a piece of chalk and do so. So long as the board and the chalk are good quality, the feel will always be the same, the marks will always be the same, and the process won't present any distractions.

        With whiteboards, I can't know whether any particular pen I pick up will actually work, and may need to go through a few. The color will change as the pens dry out, going from very high contrast to unreadable, forcing me to make a decision to throw the pen out. The tips of the pens will fray, making the lines look different. I may simply be out of pens. The board may need to be cleaned if someone has left something on it, and that can be a chore, in addition to leaving the board in a state that, unless it is completely dried, won't allow further writing.

        These are particularly important when the boards are in offices, or otherwise being used personally or in small groups: for a lecture, you can plan in advance, and make sure you have working pens, though they may well die mid-lecture. This type of use is particularly common in physics and mathematics, which is likely why those fields have many people who prefer chalkboards.

        Nevertheless, when I go to talks with whiteboards, the "try a pen, become more frustrated, throw it out, find a new pen" cycle often occurs throughout the talk, often moved along by audience members interrupting to point out that they can no longer read a particular pen's writing. Problems happen so rarely with chalkboards, by comparison, that I can vividly remember a lecture in a class when I was an undergraduate where someone in the administration had done something horrible while cleaning the boards (Perhaps they put wax on them? We never found out.) and the professor and entire class spent at least five minutes utterly baffled when the chalk somehow didn't write. It was, to us, like something out of a reality-breaking nightmare.

        6 votes
      2. [6]
        Luna
        Link Parent
        Couldn't you just use whiteboard cleaning fluid (or ask the janitors if you don't want to buy any)?

        erasing will become hard.

        Couldn't you just use whiteboard cleaning fluid (or ask the janitors if you don't want to buy any)?

        1 vote
        1. gpl
          Link Parent
          Depending on how long you leave it up there, even the fluid can be a pain to use. I've had notes up on the chalkboard for months before. I don't imagine that would be easy to wipe away on a...

          Depending on how long you leave it up there, even the fluid can be a pain to use. I've had notes up on the chalkboard for months before. I don't imagine that would be easy to wipe away on a whiteboard.

          3 votes
        2. CALICO
          Link Parent
          Fluid doesn't always work well enough. As well, if the surface of the whiteboards suffers from any abrasions then it becomes essentially unusable in that area. Waiting for a janitor to take care...

          Fluid doesn't always work well enough. As well, if the surface of the whiteboards suffers from any abrasions then it becomes essentially unusable in that area. Waiting for a janitor to take care of it kinda throws a wrench into your workflow too.

          Meanwhile, I remember cleaning chalkboards at the end of the day in elementary school. A wet sponge takes care of it in a second and the board dries off before you know it.

          3 votes
        3. [3]
          frostycakes
          Link Parent
          Isopropyl alcohol works in a pinch, and it's cheaper than the specialized fluid too.

          Isopropyl alcohol works in a pinch, and it's cheaper than the specialized fluid too.

          2 votes
          1. kfwyre
            Link Parent
            Be careful with this one: alcohol can also harm the surface of some white boards, causing them to become harder to erase regularly. On the plus side though, it's great for getting permanent marker...

            Be careful with this one: alcohol can also harm the surface of some white boards, causing them to become harder to erase regularly. On the plus side though, it's great for getting permanent marker off.

            Source: public school teacher who has had to clean his fair share of whiteboards over the years

            3 votes
          2. cge
            Link Parent
            I was once told to use glass cleaner rather than isopropanol, and it does seem that the added surfactants in glass cleaner do significantly help.

            I was once told to use glass cleaner rather than isopropanol, and it does seem that the added surfactants in glass cleaner do significantly help.

            2 votes
  8. [2]
    nic
    Link
    Advertainment

    Advertainment

    1 vote
    1. cfabbro
      Link Parent
      The company is out of business... and the company that bought the rights to the formula was never named. So it's a pretty shitty advertisement, if that was the intent.

      The company is out of business... and the company that bought the rights to the formula was never named. So it's a pretty shitty advertisement, if that was the intent.

      7 votes