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.
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After plugging Marcus du Sautoy’s appearances at Hay Festival, it occurred to me that it would only be fair to mention the other mathematically-interesting events of the week.
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.”
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.
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.
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“