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Review: The Mathematics of Secrets by Joshua Holden

Any book on cryptography written for a more-or-less lay audience must inevitably face comparisons to The Code Book, written in 1999 by Simon Singh, the king of distilling complex subjects to a few hundred pages of understandable writing. While Singh’s book is a pretty thorough history of codes and codebreaking through the centuries with plenty of the maths thrown in, The Mathematics of Secrets is tilted (and indeed titled) more towards a fuller explanation of the mathematical techniques underlying the various ciphers. Although Holden’s book follows a basically chronological path, you won’t find too much interest in pre-computer ciphers here: Enigma is cracked on page seventy, and the name Alan Turing does not appear in the book.

The Dramatic Life of Numbers: Marcus du Sautoy at Hay Festival

Marcus du Sautoy will be involved in three events at Hay Festival the weekend after next, including a talk titled Maths on Stage: The Dramatic Life of Numbers, about “his experiences working with theatre company Complicité on A Disappearing Number and his explorations of bringing maths to the stage in a recent collaboration with actress Victoria Gould.”

Marcus is also chairing a discussion of Islamic art and appearing on a panel discussing “the way we live now”.

Inspirations by Cristóbal Vila

Inspirations is a short movie by Cristóbal Vila, inspired by the work of MC Escher. While it isn’t particularly great considered purely as a work of art, it could be considered as an excellent advertisement for maths. It’s jam-packed with references not just to Escher pieces but to all sorts of famous mathematical art and ideas. I think it would take a lot of careful pausing and looking to find all the references.

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Science Showoff

Science Showoff is a monthly night which takes place in a pub in London, and features acts from all areas of science, who each have 9 minutes to perform an act – a science demo, a routine, songs, experiments – anything entertaining or fun. Having tried a little bit of the short-set, trying-to-be-funny type of science communication involved in Bright Club (a similar venture, giving researchers the chance to try stand-up comedy, which started in London and has now spread all over the country), I thought it would be good to give it another go – in fact, Science Showoff was recommended to me by someone who saw my Bright Club set in Manchester. I had prepared an 8-minute piece about Fibonacci numbers to perform in Manchester, inspired by my artist friend’s admission that she didn’t see how maths could be interesting in the same way as art; she wasn’t there to watch, but I went down well (and ran horribly over time). So I decided to reprise my set at Science Showoff in February 2012 – and this time it would be the right length, and would be new and improved with all the best jokes left in and the duds taken out.

The True Importance of Friends

A new post is available over at Second-Rate Minds by Samuel Hansen.

Why your friends have more friends than you do. That is the rather provocative title of a 1991 paper by Purdue University sociologist Scott Feld. While the title is rather provocative, thankfully it turns out that the statement is built on a solid foundation. It turns out that your friends having …

Read the full post: “The True Importance of Friends