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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.

Given any Delta, there exists Epsilon

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At the end of an overnight flight from San Francisco to New York is hardly the ideal time to play “I Spy Mathematics” on a packed airplane. We were all grumpy and groggy from four scant hours of sleep. It seemed that nobody had watched any films en route and, like most of the other passengers, I didn’t have headphones or earplugs to hand.

Clearly there was no point in scanning the entertainment offerings with just 15 minutes to landing. But then I remembered spotting an ad on screen for The Great Courses as I’d settled into my seat in San Francisco. Was it possible that I’d blown a chance to watch Art Benjamin, David Bressoud, Judith Grabiner, David Kung, James Sellers or Mike Starbird in action? I decided to try to find out.

π and The Simpsons

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In “The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets”, I documented all the mathematical references hidden in the world’s favourite TV show. Look carefully at various episodes, you will spot everything from Fermat’s last theorem to the Riemann hypothesis, from the P v NP conjecture to Zorn’s lemma.

All these references are embedded in the show, because many of the writers have mathematical backgrounds. To temper their nerdy enthusiasm, the general rule was that they could include as much mathematics as they fancied, as long as it was well hidden or only visible for a fraction of a second (a so-called freeze-frame gag).

However, if the mathematical reference is not particularly obscure, then it can be included at the heart of the action, and can even be included in the actual dialogue. π, of course, falls into this category, because everyone learns about it in school.

There are at least ten π references in “The Simpsons”, and here are my top three favourites, in reverse order: