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5th July is LGBT STEM Day

Today (5th July) is the first LGBT STEM day, a celebration of LGBTQ+ people working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Organised by charitable trust Pride in STEM and supported by 42 STEM organisations including the RSC, IOP, CERN and ESA, it’s an opportunity to recognise and celebrate our LGBTQ+ colleagues, and to focus on what we can do to support them.

MathsJam Gathering: A Review

General conference goings-on; Photo by Steve Kirkby (steve.kirk.by)It was with trepidation that I booked tickets for the MathsJam Gathering in 2015. I loved the sound of the event, but what if everyone else was cleverer than me? What if people thought I was a fraud because I wasn’t an academic? What if nobody talked to me? I needn’t have worried. MathsJam is one of the friendliest, most welcoming events I’ve ever experienced. Lots of people talked to me, I learned new things, I laughed a lot. I’ve since been to two more gatherings, and have already booked for the next one in November.

My cat isn’t psychic – but your pet could be!

Do you remember Paul the Octopus? During the 2010 World Cup, in what his Wikipedia page calls “divinations”, Paul was offered boxes of food labelled with different competitors. Whichever box he ate from first was considered his prediction for the match, with some success.

Yesterday morning, my son and I did something similar with our cat, Tabby. This is in response to Matt Parker’s latest initiative, Psychic Pets. Matt is hoping to get thousands of pet owners to make predictions, in order that the odds are good a pet can be found which predicted all prior results for both teams in the final. The good news is it’s fairly straightforward to take part.

Seeing Theory explains basic stats concepts with whizzy graphics

Screenshot of the front page of the Seeing Theory website

If you like pretty visualisations and statistics, we’ve found the website for you. Seeing Theory has been put together by a group of undergraduate students at Brown University in the USA, and aims to make statistics more accessible through interactive JavaScript visualisations. Starting from simple coin and dice examples, it builds up to Bayesian inference and regression analysis. It’s also very pretty!

They’re also hoping to produce an accompanying textbook, and a draft version is viewable now and looking for your feedback.

Seeing Theory website

Cryptogram competition – results and solution

Cover of The Mathematics of Secrets, by Josh HoldenTen days ago we posted a cryptogram puzzle, set by mathematician and author Josh Holden. We’ve had a number of entries, some which were so enthusiastic they ignored that we’d said to email them in and tried to post in the comments. However, from the correctly submitted entries, we had one stand-out winner – a quick reply, with a detailed description of the solution and a worthy recipient of a copy of The Mathematics of Secrets. Here’s Josh’s explanation of the puzzle, for anyone who hasn’t cracked it yet.

Competition: Cryptogram Puzzle

Author and mathematician Josh Holden has come up with a nice puzzle — so we’re posting it as a competition. If you think you can decrypt the message below, send in the decrypted message and a one- or two-sentence description of the mathematical principle behind the encryption key to root@aperiodical.com.  The first correct entry received will win a copy of Josh’s book, The Mathematics of Secrets.

The technical name for the “cryptograms” found in many newspapers and magazines is monoalphabetic monographic substitution ciphers — monographic meaning that they make substitutions one letter at a time and monoalphabetic meaning that the substitution rule is the same every time a given letter appears in the message.

Most often the easiest way to start solving these is to look at one-letter words which are usually “I” or “a”, then two-letter words, etc. If the breaks between the words are removed, then you might use the fact that in a typical English text the letter “e” will occur about 13% of the time, followed by “t” and “a” at 7-8% and others farther behind.

What then should we make of the following cryptogram?

YOFQX RGLQT GCQPB FFGQJ IQOFT SYVQH FSFQV FTYFC QJGQY OFRSQ YOSJG FQHOF GQYOF NQTSS REFCQ HRYOQ TQLSF TYQZS JHCQT VVFDW AFCQT WJBYQ YOFDQ TAAQV JSYVQ JIQAR YYAFQ WRSCV QTGCQ WFTVY VQTVQ HFAAQ TVQYO FQHOJ AFQMT ZXQJI QZTSC VQYOF QXGTE FQHTV QVYTG CRGLQ WFIJS FQYOF DQRGQ ZOTRG VQHRY OQTQV JACRF SQJGQ FTZOQ VRCFQ YJQLB TSCQO RDQTG CQGFT SQYOF QXRGL QHTVQ YOFQH ORYFQ STWWR YQHRY OQTQY SBDMF YQRGQ JGFQO TGCQT GCQTQ VZSJA AQJIQ MTSZO DFGYQ RGQYO FQJYO FS

The letter “Q” appears almost 20% of the time, followed by “F” at about 10%, and “Y” and “T” at about 8%. The original text is English (in fact it’s from a famous work of children’s literature) and it doesn’t have a particularly odd distribution of letters. Can you decrypt the message? For bonus points, can you figure out what is mathematically interesting about the encryption key?

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