Category Archives: Newsletter

Katie Melua and cosmology

1. Katie Melua and cosmology
2. Codes in London, Big Bang in the US & India
3. A Further Five Numbers
4. Kung Fu Science
5. Fantastic Illusion
6. Competition Winner
7. Puzzle Competition

1. Katie Melua and cosmology

I have now embarked on a new career as a lyricist, but not with any success. I won’t go into the details – it is a very long story – but it started with me writing an article for the Guardian newspaper criticising Katie Melua’s reference to the age of the universe in her song ‘Nine Million Bicycles’, and ended with Katie re-recording her record using my lyrics, which was then broadcast on Radio 4. The original article is contained on the website below and the broadcast can be heard at the second link.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1581445,00.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today/listenagain/ram/today1_melua_20051015.ram

2. Codes in London, Big Bang in the US & India

My only lecture on cryptography this year will be on October 28 at the Royal Institution in London. It is one of their Friday Evening Discourses. My understanding is that this is such a formal occasion that (many years ago) one lecturer took fright and ran away just before the lecture was due to start. To avoid a similar disappearance, lecturers are now escorted to and locked into an ante-room fifteen minutes beforehand. The Royal Institution always has a wide range of interesting and entertaining lectures, but it is just about close down for renovation throughout 2006, so the next few weeks will be your last chance for a while to pay a visit.

Last month Big Bang was published in Swedish, which is why I have just returned from Gothenburg. This month it will be published in German, which is why I will be lecturing in Switzerland next week. I will also be lecturing in Canada & America in November, and in India in December. These lecture tours are to mark the paperback publication of Big Bang.

The details of all my lectures are, as usual, at: https://www.simonsingh.net/Simon_Lectures.html

3. A Further Five Numbers

My latest radio series, A Further Five Numbers, has now been broadcast on BBC Radio 4, but you can still hear it online. My favourite episodes were 6 & 1729. The most recent series and the previous series are available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/further5.shtml (2005) http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/another5.shtml (2003) http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/5numbers.shtml (2001)

4. Kung Fu Science

This is a terrific website that shows the physics behind martial arts. It has been developed by the Institute of Physics as part of Einstein Year, and it is a brilliant example of popularising science . as opposed to their Einstein ballet! http://www.kungfuscience.org

5. Fantastic Illusion

This is one of the most amazing illusions that I have seen this year, and it appears on Ian Rowland’s website. Prepare to have your mind boggled. http://www.ianrowland.com/MiscPages/Mrangryandmrscalm.html

. and I think that there was a temporary problem with the website for the optical illusion in my previous newsletter, so here are the links again just in case you missed Julian Beever’s anamorphic pavement. http://users.skynet.be/J.Beever/swim.htm http://users.skynet.be/J.Beever/wrongview.htm

6 Competition Winner

In the last newsletter, I set you a Nubble puzzle – using the basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, construct the answer 1 by using all the numbers 1, 1, 1 and 5. There are various solutions, such as 5x(1-1)+1=1.

I received hundreds of correct answers , and the winner was Stephen Krauklis from New South Wales, Australia, who has won a copy of “Backroom Boys” by Francis Spufford.

7 Puzzle Competition

Michael Belfrage and Steve Mulligan complained that the last Nubble puzzle was too easy, so they proposed a tougher one. This time .. again using the basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, construct the answer 24 by using all the numbers 1, 3, 4 and 6.

Send your answer to nubblepuzzle@simonsingh.net – put your formula in the subject header and your address in the body of the email. The closing date for entries is November 1. As it is Einstein Year, one of the correct entries will win a copy of the excellent “E=mc2” by David Bodanis.

And you can find out more about Nubble! at these sites: http://www.virtualimage.co.uk/html/nubble.htm http://www.virtualimage.co.uk/html/download.html (free demo)

Cheerio,

Simon.

Ps. If you need to email me, then please do not reply to this address, as your email will not reach me. Please go via the website https://www.simonsingh.net and click the contact button. It takes me ages to answer emails, as I am struggling to keep up with my correspondence, so please be patient.

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A Further Five Numbers

1. A Further Five Numbers
2. Big Bang in Paperback
3. Theatre of Science
4. Free Books…
5. The plural of anecdote…
6. Puzzle Competition
7. Competition Winner
8. Incredible Scottish Illusion

1. A Further Five Numbers

I am disappearing to the Edinburgh Festival for much of August, so here is some advance notice about my new radio series, “A Further Five Numbers”. I will be taking a look at numbers such as 6 (as in six degrees of separation) and 1729 (Ramanujan’s taxicab number). The series starts on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 23 August at 9.30am, and you can listen online at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/

Radio 4 is the world’s greatest radio station, so if you live outside the UK then I would encourage you to visit the website and listen to some of the archived programmes. The comedy and science sections are great, and in the A-Z section you can access my previous series, namely “Five Numbers”, “Another Five Numbers” and “The Serendipity of Science”.

2. Big Bang in Paperback

“Big Bang” is out now in paperback in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. I am cutting down on my lecturing, but I will be talking about the Big Bang in Edinburgh and Dublin, and you can find more details at: https://www.simonsingh.net/Simon_Lectures.html

3. Theatre of Science

I have just finished a sell-out run of Theatre of Science with Richard Wiseman at the Soho Theatre. We extended the run, sold out, extended the run, and sold out again. Thanks to everyone who came along and helped make the show a success. Richard and I are working out how to take the show outside London and I will let you know our future plans via the newsletter. In the meantime, you can see me getting zapped by a million volts and find out more about the most recent show on the pages below:
https://www.simonsingh.net/ToS_Simon_Zapped.html https://www.simonsingh.net/2005_Show.html

4. Free Books …

… as long as you can read Serbian. I have six editions of “Fermaova Poslednja Teorema” by Sajmon Sing to send to the first six people who email me at freebooks@simonsingh.net with subject “Serbian Fermat” and giving me your address in the body of the email. If you do not receive a book within the next 14 days then you were unfortunately not one of the names out of the hat.

5. The plural of anecdote …
… is not data.
(Roger Brinner, economist)

6. Puzzle Competition

This puzzle is based on the new maths game Nubble! The game gives you 4 numbers and you have to derive a target number using the basic operations ofaddition, subtraction, multiplication and division. For example, how do you make the number 40 from 1, 3, 4 and 6?

The answer is (6 + 4) x (3 + 1) = 40.

Your challenge is to make the number 1 from the numbers 1, 1, 1 and 5, and you MUST use all four numbers.

Send your answer to nubblepuzzle@simonsingh.net – put your formula in the subject header and your address in the body of the email. The closing date for entries is 8 August. One of the correct entries will win a copy of the excellent “Backroom Boys – the Secret Return of the British Boffin” by Francis Spufford.

And you can find out more about Nubble! or download a free demo version on these webpages:
http://www.virtualimage.co.uk/html/nubble.htm
http://www.virtualimage.co.uk/html/download.html

7. Competition Winner

In the last newsletter, I asked you to tell me how many strokes of the razor I made when shaving that morning. The answer was 150 strokes, but I accepted any answer between 100 and 200 strokes.

Apologies to those who were unable to enter due to lack of facial hair or an abundance of it. Some people were concerned that it was a pointless and impossible question, but I wanted to show that our intuition and memory can mislead us. Most people initially guessed that the answer was about 25 strokes, but 24 hours later I received lots of correct entries, because people had conducted an experiment. I suppose I was trying to show the power of experiment over guesswork, memory and intuition.

The winners, who will receive copies of my books, are Jimmy Sprague in Washington, Cristian Stefan from Romania, Peter Selmeczy from Hampshire, Fraser Crosbie from Reading, Eric Nelson-Melby from Arizona and Jany Sabins from New Jersey.

8. Incredible Scottish Illusion

As I am going to be spending most of my summer holidays in Scotland, I thought I would leave you with an incredible optical illusion created in Glasgow by the artist Julian Beever. It is an example of anamorphic pavement art and you need to view it from two sides, so you will need to visit both of the pages below. http://users.skynet.be/J.Beever/swim.htm http://users.skynet.be/J.Beever/wrongview.htm

Have a great summer,

Simon.

Ps. If you need to email me, then please do not reply to this address, as your email will not reach me. Please go via the website https://www.simonsingh.net and click the contact button. It takes me ages to answer emails, as I am struggling to keep up with my correspondence, so please be patient.

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High Voltage Theatre of Science

1. High Voltage Theatre of Science
2. Big Bang World Tour & Fame Lab
3. Flatland
4. Darwin Dub Reggae
5. Puzzle Competition
6. Competition Winner

1. High Voltage Theatre of Science

It’s been three years since Richard Wiseman and I performed our show ‘Theatre of Science’, but now we are back with a new show, bigger and better than ever before. In an effort to push the boundaries of what can be done in a theatre, we will be submitting ourselves to million volt sparks. Also, we will be joined on stage by one of the world’s most talented theremin players and an incredibly bendy contortionist. The show will be at the Soho Theatre in London from July 4 onwards. There are details of the new and old Theatre of Science at the sites below:

http://www.sohotheatre.com/comedy/
https://www.simonsingh.net/Theatre_of_Science.html

2. Big Bang World Tour & FameLab

I have just returned from three weeks in New Zealand and Australia, where ‘Big Bang’ has just been published in paperback. I had a great time, and now I am back in the UK for the release of the British paperback. I will be giving various talks, including this Saturday morning at the brilliant Cheltenham Science Festival. I will also be a judge for the final of ‘Fame Lab’, which is ‘Pop Idol’ for boffins. Details of this and other events at the sites below:

http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.co.uk/frame_festindex.cfm?FEST=SCIENCE
http://www.famelab.org/
https://www.simonsingh.net/Simon_Lectures.html

‘Big Bang’ is already available in Italian, and later this year I will be visiting Germany and Sweden for the release of these translations. I also have plans to give lectures in Ireland, America, Canada and India before the end of the year. More details in future newsletters.

3. Flatland

When asked about string theory and higher dimensions, I often refer people to a wonderful novella entitled ‘Flatland’, written over a century ago by Edwin A. Abbott. Subtitled ‘A Romance of Many Dimensions’, it tells the story of a community of people who live in two dimensions and who are, therefore, unable to conceive of a third dimension. The entire text is now available online, and it is certainly worth a read if you are curious about the possibility of eleven or more dimensions.

http://nedwww.ipac.caltech.edu/level5/Abbott/Abbott_contents.html

4. Darwin Dub Reggae

The Genomic Dub Collective website below is my favourite piece of quirky art-science. It contains dub reggae songs about Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution. The songs are absolutely wonderful, and they written and performed by Professor Mark Pallen and his PhD student Dom White.

www.infection.bham.ac.uk/BPAG/Dub/origin.html

5. Puzzle Competition

How many shaving strokes did I make this morning? I will accept an answer that is accurate to within 30 per cent. As far as I know, I am a fairly typical shaver.

The best way to get the answer to my question is to count the number of strokes you make yourself, or ask a brother or father or son if you are too young or too female to shave. I am defining a stroke as a single downward or a single upward motion of the blade such that the blade does not leave the skin.

There will be 5 winners, who can receive a copy of ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’ in English, Serbian, German or Italian.

Email your answer to puzzle@simonsingh.net – the email should be empty, but your subject line should contain your estimate, the book you want and the language.

6. Competition Winner

In the last newsletter, I asked you to come up with a name for the first planet ever to be observed orbiting another star. It is currently known as 2M1207b, but I preferred Paul Lyden’s suggestion: ‘The name has to be “Snow White”. It was found near a brown dwarf!’ He will receive a copy of “The Genius of Science: A Portrait Gallery of 20th Century Physicists” by Abraham Pais.

Happy Shaving,

Simon.

Ps. If you need to email me, then please do not reply to this address, as your email will not reach me. Please go via the website https://www.simonsingh.net and click the contact button. It takes me ages to answer emails, as I am struggling to keep up with my correspondence, so please be patient.

PPs. To unsubscribe, please send a blank email to newsletter-unsubscribe@simonsingh.net. For further help with subscribing and unsubscribing, please visit https://www.simonsingh.net/Sign-up.html

What the Bleep Do We Know!?

1. Big Bang Down Under
2. What the Bleep Do We Know!?
3. The Singhsons
4. Theatre of Science
5. Puzzle Competition
6. Competition Winner

1. Big Bang Down Under

I am just packing my suitcase and getting ready for a big trip to New Zealand and Australia. ‘Big Bang’ is being published in paperback down under, so I will be giving a dozen lectures on cosmology over the next 3 weeks, including talks at the Auckland and Sydney literary festivals. All my other lectures are listed at: https://www.simonsingh.net/Simon_Lectures.html

The lectures website also contains details of my forthcoming UK lectures in Hay, Cheltenham, Glasgow and London.

2. What the Bleep Do We Know!?

I don’t think I have previously used this newsletter to criticise anybody else’s work, but when it comes to the utter junk that is ‘What the Bleep Do We Know!?’ then I am prepared to make an exception.

I first came across this film when I was in America back in February and now it is about to open in cinemas in the UK and elsewhere. It is the third highest grossing documentary ever and it claims to be about quantum physics, but in fact it makes gross distortions that would make any self-respecting scientist squirm. For example, the film states that experiments imply that labelling a bottle of water with words like ‘love’ or ‘hate’ can change its molecular structure. Indeed, the film suggests that quantum physics can explain why this is the case. Apparently quantum physics can also be exploited to bring about world peace through meditation.

If you have a science background then please do not go and see this film as you will be violently ill afterwards. And if you do not have a science background then please do not go and see this film as you will be submitting yourself to two hours of (badly filmed) pseudoscientific propaganda. If you want to learn about quantum physics then I would advise you to pay a visit to the library or find a TV documentary on the subject – both options cost less and deliver more than this atrocious film.

As you can tell by now, I really do hate this film. Having spent the last fifteen years making documentaries and writing about science, I care hugely about the accurate and honest portrayal of science. I am working on an article that details exactly why I hate this film so much, and I will put it online soon and link to it in my next newsletter.

3. The Singhsons

Having discussed a film that made me horribly depressed, here is one that made me ridiculously happy. I apologise if you have already seen this clip, but it is the opening sequence of ‘The Simpsons’ revamped with an Indian spin. Go to the following website if you want to meet ‘The Singhsons’:
http://www.badmash.org/singhson.php

4. Theatre of Science

Some of you may remember ‘Theatre of Science’, a show performed a couple of years ago by myself and Richard Wiseman in London and Edinburgh. We are coming back to the Soho Theatre in London this July with a new show. There will be more details in the next newsletter, but you can find out how to book tickets or find out about the previous show at the web pages below: http://www.sohotheatre.com/comedy/

https://www.simonsingh.net/Theatre_of_Science.html

5. Puzzle Competition

Astronomers recently published an astonishing and historic picture, which showed the first direct observation of a planet outside the Solar System: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4501323.stm

The planet is currently known as 2M1207b, but I was wondering if you could come up with a better name.

Email your suggestion to puzzle@simonsingh.net and my favourite entry

will win a copy of “The Genius of Science: A Portrait Gallery of 20th Century Physicists” by Abraham Pais.

6. Last Month’s Winner

In the last newsletter, I asked: “What do the following fractions have in common – 26/65, 19/95, 49/98, 16/64?” The answer is that you can strike out the common numbers top and bottom and simplify the fraction, e.g., 26/65 = 2/5 by knocking out the 6s. Of course, this is just a coincidence and not something that you should do as a rule, but if you want to be mischievous then show these fractions to some schoolchildren and it can destroy their understanding of how to cancel fractions.

Jason Ermer from Texas was the first entry out of the hat and winner of ‘Fermat’s Last Theorem’ by me.

See you on the other side of the world,

Cheerio,
Simon.

Ps. If you need to email me, then please do not reply to this address, as your email will not reach me. Please go via the website https://www.simonsingh.net and click the contact button. It takes me ages to answer emails, as I am struggling to keep up with my correspondence, so please be patient.

PPs. To unsubscribe, please send a blank email to newsletter-unsubscribe@simonsingh.net. For further help with subscribing and unsubscribing, please visit https://www.simonsingh.net/Sign-up.html

Collapsing Bridges and Annie Jump Cannon

1. Big Bang in America
2. Tacoma Narrows Bridge
3. Harvard Computers
4. Puzzle Competition
5. Competition Winner

1. Big Bang in America

I am now back in the UK after six weeks of touring across North America.
Many thanks to everyone who came along to the various talks and who gave me
such an enthusiastic and warm welcome wherever I lectured. The tour ended
with some great news – “Big Bang” appeared this week on the New York Times
bestsellers list! The list contains the top 15 books, and “Big Bang” just
sneaked in at number 15.

Now that I am back in Britain, I will be giving several lectures around the
country over the next two months. Planned lectures are listed at:
https://www.simonsingh.net/Simon_Lectures.html

2. Tacoma Narrows Bridge

My US tour took me to Seattle, just thirty miles away from Tacoma, which
reminded me of my favorite piece of physics/engineering footage. If you want
to see the catastrophic resonant failure of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, then
you can watch it at:
http://www.glendale-h.schools.nsw.edu.au/faculty_pages/ind_arts_web/bridgewe
b/Tacoma_page.htm
There are two clips at the bottom of the webpage. The first one has great
music and a sensational voiceover, but the second one contains the more
dramatic footage.
http://www.glendale-h.schools.nsw.edu.au/faculty_pages/ind_arts_web/bridgewe
b/newsreel.htm
http://www.glendale-h.schools.nsw.edu.au/faculty_pages/ind_arts_web/bridgewe
b/commentary.htm

3. Harvard Computers

I was in America when the president of Harvard University suggested that
women might have less “innate ability” at science and mathematics than men.
It prompted me to write an article about the Harvard computers for the
Boston Globe. These so-called computers were actually women employed to do
mundane calculations, but they astounded their male bosses by making truly
great discoveries in astronomy. If you want to hear a tribute to one of
these, then you can hear a rather quirky little ditty dedicated to Annie
Jump Cannon at the web site of Lynda Williams’s (the Physics Chanteuse):
http://www.entersci.com/cosmic/Ajump.html
To fully appreciate the song, you can read the lyrics and find out more
about Annie Jump Cannon at: http://www.entersci.com/cosmic/ajump.htm

4. Puzzle Competition

26/65, 19/95, 49/98, 16/64 – what do these fractions have in common?

If you would like a clue then here it is written backwards: “UOY NAC OD
GNIHTEMOS OT MEHT TAHT SI OS YLBAVEILEBNU GNORW TAHT TI SI YLLAUTCA THGIR.”

Email the answer and your address to puzzle@simonsingh.net and one of the
correct entries will win a copy of Fermat’s Last Theorem.

5. Last Month’s Winner

In the last newsletter, I asked: “What is the largest non-McNugget number?”
The answer is 43, and more information is available at:
http://mathworld.wolfram.com/McNuggetNumber.html

Kelly Howery from Missouri. was the first entry out of the hat and winner of
“How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World” by Francis Wheen.

Cheerio,
Simon.

Ps. If you need to email me, then please do not reply to this address, as
your email will not reach me. Please go via the website
https://www.simonsingh.net and click the contact button. It takes me ages to
answer emails, as I am struggling to keep up with my correspondence, so
please be patient.

PPs. To unsubscribe, please send a blank email to
newsletter-unsubscribe@simonsingh.net. For further help with subscribing and
unsubscribing, please visit https://www.simonsingh.net/Sign-up.html

Optical Illusions and McNugget Numbers

1. Optical Illusions
2. New Year Giveaway
3. Horrendous Space Kablooie in the USA
4. Fix for the CD-ROM
5. Shop Partly Closing Down & Free CD-ROM Download
6. Competition Winner
7. Puzzle Competition

1. Optical Illusions

There’s no better way to start the New Year than by staring at optical illusions. It really makes you appreciate the flawed genius otherwise known as your brain. The page below is a brilliant collection of illusions, pointed out to me by Professor Richard Wiseman, author of ‘The Luck Factor’ and ‘Where’s the Gorilla?’. Enjoy … http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/index.html
(If you have problems accessing the illusion web pages, then just download the Flash plug-in at the bottom of the web page.)

And if your hunger for illusions is still not satiated, then pay a visit to … http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~moraes/illusion.html

2. New Year Giveaway

In an effort to clear out my shelves for the year ahead, I am keen to give away the following translations of Fermat’s Last Theorem:
L’Ultimo Teorema di Fermat (Italian) – 2 copies
El enigma de Fermat (Spanish) – 5 copies
Le Dernier Theoreme de Fermat (French) – 1 copy
Fermats Letzter Satz (German) – 1 copy
Fermat’s Last Theorem (Hebrew) – 1 copy

If you would like one, then just email me at freebook@simonsingh.net putting the title in the subject of your email and your address in the body. The books will be sent on a first come, first served basis.

3. Horrendous Space Kablooie in the USA

Because I have been talking about my new book (Big Bang) in my last three newsletters, I thought I might use the Calvin & Hobbes term for this theory of cosmic creation instead of the more familiar phrase … just to break the tedium.

There is not much to report, except that the book will be published in the US this week, and I will be touring throughout the States in January and February. Details of my US lectures are now available at: https://www.simonsingh.net/Simon_Lectures.html

Translations of Big Bang will appear during the course of 2005. The Italian edition is already out, and I was shocked to learn that the Italian for Big Bang is Big Bang: https://www.simonsingh.net/Big_Bang_Reviews.html

4. Fix for the CD-ROM

The recent Windows XP patch seems to have caused problems for a small minority of people using the CD-ROM version of ‘The Code Book’. If you are still encountering problems, then the solution is described at: https://www.simonsingh.net/The_CDROM_XP_Fix.html

5. Shop partly closing down & free CD-ROM download

In contrast to every other shop in the world, I am going to be taking the simonsingh.net shop off-line, inasmuch as it will no longer be possible to order by credit card. If you live in the UK, then you can still order signed books and CD-ROMs by cheque and post, and details of how to do this remain on the site. However, if you live overseas, then you will have to obtain books from local shops made of bricks or other online shops. https://www.simonsingh.net/Simons_Shop.html

The good news is that the interactive CD-ROM version of ‘The Code Book’ is now downloadable for free. Having distributed 25,000 copies over the last three years, it is great to see that this resource can be made even more widely available. The download takes approximately 3 hours via broadband – details available at: https://www.simonsingh.net/Code_Book_Download.html

6. Competition Winner

Last month I asked: “Why do mathematicians get Christmas (Dec 25) confused with Halloween (Oct 31)?” The answer is that 25 in decimal (Dec) is equal to 31 in octal (Oct). 2 x 10 + 5 = 3 x 8 + 1

The first entry out of the hat and winner of ‘The Music of The Primes’ by Marcus du Sautoy was Jon Bolmstedt from Sweden.

7. Puzzle Competition

Certain numbers have a special property. For example, 1729 is the smallest number that can be expressed as the sum of two cubes in two different ways: 1729 = 12 cubed + 1 cubed = 10 cubed + 9 cubed.

An interesting story about 1729 can be found at: http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/biography/Ramanujan.html

The special number in the puzzle is the so-called McNuggets number. Before going any further, I should stress that this puzzle is neither an endorsement of fast food in general nor McDonalds in particular. A future newsletter will contain a healthy salad based puzzle.

From the standard menu, McNuggets come in 6’s, 9’s and 20’s (we ignore the Happy Meals because you get fries, a drink and a toy) and pound menu (which is new) where they come in 4’s. The McNugget number is the largest number of McNuggets that you cannot order at McDonalds from their standard menu. What is the McNugget number?

Email the answer and your address to puzzle@simonsingh.net and one of the correct entries will win a copy of the brilliant “How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World” by Francis Wheen. (Thanks to James Blowey at Durham University for introducing me to the McNuggets number.)

Best Wishes for 2005,

Cheerio,

Simon.

Ps. If you need to email me, then please do not reply to this address, as your email will not reach me. Please go via the website https://www.simonsingh.net and click the contact button. It takes me ages to answer emails, as I am struggling to keep up with my correspondence, so please be patient.

PPs. To unsubscribe, please send a blank email to newsletter-unsubscribe@simonsingh.net. For further help with subscribing and unsubscribing, please visit https://www.simonsingh.net/Sign-up.html

Big Bang on Tour

1. More Big Bang
2. Enigma Project
3. Egg Shell Secrecy
4. Stanley Hey Memoir
5. Mind Games
6. Competition Winner
7. Puzzle Competition

1. More Big Bang

The new book (Big Bang) has now been published and all the reviews (except
one!) have been very complimentary. Snippets from all the reviews (except
one!) can be found at the website.
https://www.simonsingh.net/Big_Bang_Reviews.html

And I am having lots of fun talking about the Big Bang, having constructed a
talk that links the Teletubbies, Led Zeppelin and spherical bastards to
cosmology. I will be giving several talks in the UK in November and
December, and the dates are on the website.
https://www.simonsingh.net/Simon_Lectures.html

(Tonight I will be in Durham, but talking about risk rather than cosmology.)

2. Enigma Project

The Enigma Project is now up and running again, having been adopted by the
Millennium Maths Project. If you would like to see a real Enigma cipher
machine or have a code breaking workshop in your school then please visit
their website:
http://mmp.maths.org/projects/enigma.html

3. Egg Shell Secrecy

If you have read ‘The Code Book’ then you will know that I described a
method for hiding a message inside a hard-boiled egg. You write on the shell
using an ink made of alum in vinegar, which permeates the shell but leaves
its mark on the hardened albumen inside. It is an example of steganography.

However, a few people have written to me to say that they could not make the
technique work. I think I now know what went wrong. According to Christopher
Wasshuber in Magic magazine (May 2001) the problem is that alum today means
something different from alum in the past: “Alum is aluminium sulfate, but
the recipe requires ferrous ammonium sulfate.. The iron in the alum is
carried through the shell by vinegar, which is just strong enough to
penetrate the eggshell. The white of the egg contains sulfur and oxygen,
which combines with the iron to form iron oxide, which is black.” Apologies
for the confusion.

4. Stanley Hey Memoir

If people have read Big Bang or if you have an interest in radio astronomy
then you might know of the incredible Stanley Hey, one of the unsung heroes
of British science. Thanks to Nigel Henbest, I now have several copies of a
memoir written by Stanley Hey and am looking for good homes for them. If you
have a special interest in radio astronomy and would like to receive a free
copy, then please email your address to memoir@simonsingh.net and I will
send you one. I have only a few copies, so I would like to stress that they
are intended for specialists, historians, librarians, etc.

5. Mind Games

Mind Games (a TV puzzle show) is back on BBC4 on Monday nights. I am no
longer hosting Mind Games, as the series clashed with other commitments, so
the brilliant Marcus Du Sautoy is now tormenting viewers with a variety of
conundrums.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/tvsites/mindgames/

6. Competition Winner

Last month I asked: “Victor and Juliet go on holiday – where do they go?”

Victor and Juliet are to be found in the phonetic alphabet, so they probably
went somewhere also in the phonetic alphabet, such as India, Lima or Quebec
(and they probably stayed in a Hotel). There were lots of correct entries,
but the winner of Francis Spufford’s “Backroom Boys” is Suzanne MacLeod.

7. Puzzle Competition

Why do mathematicians get Christmas (Dec 25) confused with Halloween (Oct
31)?

Email the answer and your address to puzzle@simonsingh.net and one of the
correct entries
will win a copy of “Music of Primes” by Marcus Du Sautoy.

Cheerio,
Simon.

Big Bang

1. Big Bang – new book!
2. Royal Institution and other talks
3. Cipher Challenge
4. Boothby Graffoe
5. Levitron
6. Puzzle Competition
7. Competition Winners
8. Free Korean Code Books
9. Worst Science Pun of the Month Award

1. Big Bang – new book!

It is has been several months since my last newsletter, because I have been busy writing “Big Bang”, which is published in the UK this month and everywhere else starting in January. As well as explaining the history of the Big Bang theory of the universe, the book also tries to explain how new ideas emerge in science (i.e., the paradigm shift). The publisher’s blurb says:

“Albert Einstein once said: ‘The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.’ Simon Singh believes geniuses like Einstein are not the only people able to grasp the physics that governs the universe. We all can. As well as explaining what the Big Bang theory actually is, the book will address why cosmologists believe that it is an accurate description of the origin of the universe. It will also tell the story of the scientists who fought against the establishment idea of an eternal and unchanging universe. Simon Singh, renowned for making difficult ideas much less difficult than they first seem, is the perfect guide for this journey. Everybody has heard of the Big Bang theory. But how many of us can actually claim to understand it? With characteristic clarity and a narrative peppered with anecdotes and personal histories of those who have struggled to understand creation, Simon Singh has written the story of the most important theory ever.”

The book is not available at my website, but it is should now be on sale at bookshops (both real and virtual) and at your local library.

2. Royal Institution and other talks

I will be talking about the Big Bang at the Royal Institution (020-7409 2992) in London on October 14. In fact, I will be giving talks all over the UK in the coming months and there are details of a dozen planned lectures at:

https://www.simonsingh.net/Simon_Lectures.html

There will be more UK talks in November and December, and next year I will be visiting America, Australia, India, South Africa and New Zealand. There will be more details in future newsletters. In the meantime, I can confirm that I will be speaking at the New York Museum of Natural History on January 18 and at the Smithsonian in Washington DC on January 19.

3. Cipher Challenge

I usually offer a cryptogram competition in my newsletters, but I will now be offering more general puzzles. However, if you are still keen to crack some codes, then you could enter the Cipher Challenge competition for schools run by Southampton University: www.cipher.maths.soton.ac.uk/

4. Boothby Graffoe

I missed out on seeing my favourite comedian at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, but fortunately I stumbled across this website with a video clip of him singing his song about the Poor Umbrella Head Boy. http://www.eva-uk.com/boothbygraffoe/images/video/umbheadboy.mov

If you cannot get his video to work, then here are some of his words of wisdom: “Cigarettes are very like weasels – perfectly harmless unless you put one in your mouth and try to set fire to it.”

5. Levitron

If you saw my BBC 4 puzzle series “Mind Games”, then you might have seen a mysterious levitating object. Several people have asked me where they can obtain one. I obtained mine at:

http://www.levitron.com/

Warning: it does take a bit of persistence to make it work, but once you have cracked it then the effect is quite bizarre. A video at the website shows exactly what it does.

6. Puzzle Competition

Instead of a cryptogram, I am going to offer more general puzzles in future. And I thought I would start with a really nasty one. I think I heard it on Chris Maslanka’s (www.puzzlemaster.co.uk/) Puzzle Panel, and the question is simple: “Victor and Juliet go on holiday – where do they go?” Clue 1 – there are several possible answers. Clue 2 – while on holiday, they stayed in a hotel. Email the answer to puzzle@simonsingh.net and one of the correct entries will win a copy of Francis Spufford’s “Backroom Boys”, a collection of tales about engineering, invention and innovation.

7. Competition Winners

Thanks to the dozen or so Calvin and Hobbes fans who told me when the phrase Horrendous Space Kablooie was invented – 1992. The winner out of the virtual hat was Shahar Betzalel from Tel Aviv, who receives a copy of The Universe at Midnight by Ken Croswell.

And the answer to the Crypto Quiz was QUIZ – it is the missing word in the sequence (BANKS, GLYPH, CWM, FJORD, VEXT, ????) because it consists of the only unused letters from the alphabet. The winner was Anne Ennis from Cambridgeshire, and there were so many correct entries that 3 runners-up will receive a copy of The Code Book on CD-Rom – Manish Nayak from Hong Kong, Hans Hofstetter from Germany and Neil Binnie from Northamptonshire.

8. Free Korean Code Books

I have four editions of “The Code Book” in Korean. If you would like a copy and if you live in the UK, then just email me (Korean@simonsingh.net) your postal address and I will put a copy in the post to the first four requests.

9.Worst Science Pun of the Month Award

Two brothers bought a cattle ranch and named it Focus. When their father asked why they chose that name, they replied: “It’s the place where the sons raise meat.”

Attributed to Prof. W. B. Pietenpol, Physics Department, University of Colorado.

Cheerio,

Simon.

Ps. If you need to email me, then please do not reply to this address, as your email will not reach me. Please go via the website https://www.simonsingh.net and click the contact button. It takes me ages to answer emails, as I am struggling to keep up with my correspondence, so please be patient.

PPs. To unsubscribe, please email unsubscribe@simonsingh.net with your email address in the subject header preceded by UNSUB, e.g., [subject: UNSUB john.johnson@johnjohnson.org.za]

PPs. I know that a few addresses on my mailing lists have been duplicated. I have done my best to clear this up, but if you are receiving two copies of this newsletter, then please let me know and I address the problem. Just email duplicate@simonsingh.net and put [duplicate] in the subject box.

Royal Institution and more Mind Games

1. More Mind Games
2. Royal Institution talk
3. Optical Illusions
4. Crypto Tutorials
5. Horrendous Space Kablooie Quiz
6. Cryptogram Competition
7. Competition Winners

1. More Mind Games

In his Evening Standard column, the TV reviewer Victor Lewis-Smith was not very complimentary about my puzzle show Mind Games – “The greatest puzzle is why intelligent people can’t find anything better do with their brains than watch this.” To find out what Victor was talking about, you can catch the 2004 run of Mind Games on BBC4 starting on Feb 16th at 9pm. More details at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/tvsites/mindgames/

2. Royal Institution talk

On Monday Feb 16, I will be giving a lecture at the Royal Institution in London – “Probability for the Terrified!” It will be a slightly extended version of my half of the Theatre of Sciences show. You can find out more about the lecture by emailing rhandbury@ri.ac.uk or calling 020-7409 2992 or visiting:

http://www.rigb.org

If you cannot make it to the lecture, then you can still find out about one of the topics that I will be covering, the fascinating and infuriating Monty Hall paradox, by visiting:

http://plus.maths.org/issue4/puzzle/doors.html

I will also be talking about the Bible Code, which was recently the subject of a BBC Horizon TV documentary. You can read more about why mathematicians believe that this is a hoax at:

http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/torah.html

3. Optical Illusions

I recently came across a website full of optical illusions. Here is the main site, followed by my two favourite illusions.

http://www.optillusions.com/

http://www.optillusions.com/dp/1-1.htm

http://www.optillusions.com/dp/1-13.htm

4. Crypto tutorials

A couple of people have asked about good cryptography tutorial sites. The following sites vary in their target audience, from children to enthusiasts: www.simonsingh.net/The_Black_Chamber/home.html My Black Chamber site www.antilles.k12.vi.us/math/cryptotut/home.htm The Crypto Tutorial site www.cryptoclub.math.uic.edu/indexmain.html The Crypto Club site www.cryptool.com

https://www.simonsingh.net/The_Black_Chamber/home.html, My Black Chamber site.

http://www.antilles.k12.vi.us/math/cryptotut/home.htm , The Crypto Tutorial site.

http://www.cryptoclub.math.uic.edu/indexmain.html, The Crypto Club site.

http://www.cryptool.com, The Crypt Tool site.

5. Horrendous Space Kablooie Quiz

The Horrendous Space Kablooie is an alternative name for the big bang, coined by Bill Watterson in his comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. For a while it was even a fashionable term among cosmologists.

Apparently, Calvin says to Hobbes, “I’ve been reading about the beginning of the universe. They call it ‘The Big Bang.’ Isn’t it weird how scientists can imagine all the matter of the universe exploding out of a dot smaller than the head of a pin, but they can’t come up with a more evocative name for it than ‘the Big Bang’? That’s the whole problem with science. You’ve got a bunch of empiricists trying to describe things of unimaginable wonder.”
Hobbes asks, “What would you call the creation of the universe?”
Calvin replies, “The Horrendous Space Kablooie!”

I am trying to find out when this particular comic strip was published. It is a bit of research for my new book, but I am going to sneakily disguise it as a competition. There will be a copy of Ken Croswell’s excellent “The Universe at Midnight” for the first person to give me a date for this strip. Just send your answer to Kablooie@simonsingh.net

6. Cryptogram Competition

What is the missing word? BANKS, GLYPH, CWM, FJORD, VEXT, ????

It does not seem like a code breaking challenge, but the technique of frequency analysis will help you with this quiz.

Email the answer to cryptogram@simonsingh.net and one of the correct entries will win a copy of The Code Book and the interactive CD-ROM.

If you would like a more traditional cryptogram, then you might like to visit the following site, which seems to have regular code breaking challenges:

http://www.thawte.com/cryptochallenge/,

7. Competition Winners

The last cryptogram competition involved a rather specialist question. There were only a couple of dozen correct answers and the winner out of the hat was Greg Melia, whose answer covered every interpretation of the question: “Solitaire (or Pontifex) was invented by Bruce Schneier. The perl script in the back of the book to allow it to work on a computer was written by Ian Goldberg. Of course, in the book Solitaire was invented by Rudolph von Halklheber,” A copy of Neil Stephenson’s “Quicksilver” is already on its way to Greg.

And that’s it. I am sorry that there is not much to report, but I have been busy writing my new book, which should be available within the next 12 months or so. I should be able to tell you a bit about its contents in a few months from now. In the meantime, here is one my favourite quotes discovered so far this year:
“Math was always my bad subject. I couldn’t convince my teachers that many of my answers were meant ironically.”
Calvin Trillin.

Cheerio,
Simon Singh.

Ps. If you need to email me, then please do not reply to this address, as your email will not reach me. Please go via the website https://www.simonsingh.net and click on the contact button. It takes me ages to answer emails, as I am struggling to keep up with my correspondence, so please be patient.

PPs. To unsubscribe, please email unsubscribe@simonsingh.net with your email address in the subject header preceded by UNSUB, e.g., [subject: UNSUB john.johnson@johnjohnson.org.za]

More Mind Games

1. More Mind Games
2. Bradford Hardie Memoir
3. Manchester Lectures
4. Visions of Science
5. CD-ROM Video and Networking
6. Cryptogram Competition
7. Competition Winners

1. More Mind Games

If you like puzzles and you have access to BBC4, then you might be interested in the new 10-part series of Mind Games. It starts on Monday 10 November at 9pm and is then repeated on Thursdays at 7.30pm and 11.30pm. I will be handing out lots of puzzles and guests such as Dara O’Briain (my favourite comedian) and Lord Robert Winston (my favourite professor of fertility) will be trying to solve them.

https://www.simonsingh.net/MindGames.html

In the meantime, if you want to try something puzzling, then have a look at the Wason Test:

http://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/nikolas.lloyd/games/wason.html

And if you have trouble going to sleep tonight, then here’s a quick puzzle: what is the only English number that is spelt out in alphabetical order? For example, in French the letters of deux, cinq, dix and cent appear in alphabetical order. Also, deux x cinq x dix = cent.

2. Bradford Hardie Memoir

The Enigma cipher machine that I have in my office was discovered in France by an American military cryptographer Bradford Hardie while on active service in the Second World War. He wrote a memoir of his life as a cryptographer. His family is willing to share this with anybody who is seriously interested in the history of cryptography, so if you would like a photocopy of this 94-page typewritten (sometimes illegible) memoir then please send your address and a UK cheque for £5 payable to Simon Singh to PO Box 23064, London, W11 3GX. This will cover the cost of photocopying and postage. This manuscript can only be sent to addresses in the UK. I should reiterate that this memoir is only suitable for serious historians of cryptography. Orders should arrive by November 20 and copies of the memoir will be despatched on December 1.

3. Manchester Sixth Form Lectures

There will be a series of lectures aimed at sixth form mathematicians on the 10th December in Manchester. I will be talking about codes and code breaking and demonstrating a genuine World War II Enigma cipher machine, while the brilliant Rob Eastaway will be giving his ‘Guide to Impure Maths’ and the entertaining Colin Wright will be explaining the ‘Theory and Practice of Juggling’.. The aim of the event, organised in conjunction with the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), is to prove that maths does have a life beyond A Levels. If you are a teacher and would like to bring a group of students, then more information and a booking form can be found at the IMA web site:

http://www.ima.org.uk/mathematics/enigma.htm

4. Visions of Science

I was one of the judges for this year’s Visions of Science photography competition. You can see the winners at the Visions of Science website, where you will also find details of the Visions of Science lectures and exhibitions being held around the UK.

http://www.visions-of-science.co.uk/
(My favourite image is the recovering toenail.)

5. CD-ROM Video and Networking

Some teachers have asked about how to network the CD-ROM version of The Code Book so that it can be a shared resource. You can find details of how to do this at:

https://www.simonsingh.net/The_CDROM_network.html

Also, a few people with the very latest versions of Windows XP have not been able to run the video clips on the CD-ROM. The solution to this is also available on the web page above.

6. Cryptogram Competition

I am sorry that this latest newsletter is so UK-centric (BBC4, Manchester, Bradford Hardie memoir), but at least the competition is open to everybody. The prize is a copy of “Quicksilver”, Neil Stephenson’s prequel to “Cryptonomicon”.. The question is this: which cryptographer devised an encryption algorithm based on a deck of playing cards that was discussed in “Cryptonomicon”? Email the answer to cryptogram@simonsingh.net and one of you will win Neil Stephenson’s latest epic.

5. Competition Winners

The last cryptogram competition involved cracking a simple substitution cipher … except that the plaintext contained no E’s. It was the opening sentence from Gilbert Adair’s “A Void”, a translation of Georges Perec’s “La Disparation”, neither of which have any E’s in the entire novel! Over one hundred of you were not fooled by this trick, and the winner drawn out of the hat is Javier Sanjuan from Barcelona.

The winner of the probability competition (who receives a copy of “Reckoning with Risk” by Gerd Gigerenzer) is Manish Nayak from Hong Kong. He worked out that you need 41 people in a room to have a 90% chance of a shared birthday.

If you want to play with various parameters and work out the probablity of a shared birthday, then you can visit Andrew Webster’s website, which has a programme designed to solve this sort of problem:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~smgxar0/CoincidentBirthdays/

And that’s just about it … except to recommend a rather quirky little science site. If you are a fan of the astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, then you can hear a song dedicated to her at the web site of Lynda Williams (the Physics Chanteuse):

http://www.entersci.com/cosmic/Ajump.html

To fully appreciate the song, you might like to read the lyrics and find our more about Annie Jump Cannon.

http://www.entersci.com/cosmic/ajump.htm

Cheerio,
Simon Singh.

Ps. If you need to email me, then please do not reply to this address, as your email will not reach me. Please go via the website https://www.simonsingh.net and click on the contact button. It takes me ages to answer emails, as I am struggling to keep up with my correspondence, so please be patient.

PPs. To unsubscribe, please email unsubscribe@simonsingh.net with your email address in the subject header preceded by UNSUB, e.g., [subject: UNSUB john.johnson@johnjohnson.org.za]