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When numbers aren’t neutral: the hidden politics of budget calculators

The BBC News Budget 2017 calculator

The day after last week’s budget, I logged onto the BBC News website and clicked on their budget calculator to find out if I was a winner or a loser. The questions are pretty simple: first off, it asks how much you drink, smoke and drive, and then it asks how much you earn, plus a few bits and bobs to cover technicalities. Then, it spits out an answer: did Phil leave you feeling flush, was it more of a hammering at the hands of Hammond? I came away £8 a month better off…and significantly angrier than I expected.

New podcast takes a look at Maths at the Movies

Thomas Woolley has written in to tell us about the new podcast he’s launched with a couple of friends.

It’s called “Maths at: the Movies” (I suspect the colon is leaving them wiggle room to look at other media) and features co-hosts Thomas and Ben M. Parker chatting about films with “interested observer” and asymptotically anonymous woman “The Wonderful Liz”.

Laws of mathematics not as immutable as we thought, in Australia

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull said, as part of a speech proposing a law to force tech companies to give the government access to encrypted messages,

“The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.”

The problem is that the end-to-end encryption schemes used by messaging apps make it practically impossible for the makers of the app to read messages, even if they really want to.

New Scientist writer Jacob Aron has seen the positive side of Turnbull’s comments:

Review: Hidden Figures

Mega-late to the party, I’ve now arrived back from a week lecturing in Indonesia and have found time to go and see the incredibly well-received and widely talked-about NASA women maths film, Hidden Figures. I’ve heard an incredible number of wildly positive responses to the film, from as long ago as January, and have been looking forward to it greatly.

The film is a painstaking and at times brutally realistic depiction of the struggles faced by African-Americans, and by women, during the era of the early space missions.

Maths and stats on Radio 1!

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(For once I can use an exclamation mark next to a number without wise alecks making the canonical joke)

Maths and stats! On BBC Radio 1! Who’d’ve though it!

DJ Clara Amfo and the ubiquitous Hannah Fry have got a new series on the UK’s top pop station, looking at music from a mathematical perspective.

Music by Numbers (excuse me, Music by Num83r5), is currently being broadcast at 9pm each Tuesday, and there are a couple of episodes already on iPlayer Radio to catch up on. The first is about Coldplay (records sold: millions; distinct tunes composed: 1) and the second looks at a few numbers to do with Iggy Azalea’s career.

It’s mostly a very easy listen, more a biography hung off a list of numbers than any real maths, but that might be your cup of tea. And Dr Fry’s segments do go into a little bit of depth about subjects like how the top 40 chart is calculated.

I’ll warn you now that each episode is an hour long, with a lot of music breaks. If you’re like me, your tolerance for some of the featured artists might not be sufficient to get through a whole episode in one go.

Listen: Music by Numbers on BBC Radio 1.