Category Archives: Paranoia

Q: How good is the Enigma code system compared to today’s publicly available cryptography systems?

Physicist: Freaking terrible. The Enigma machine used a “rolling substitution cypher” which means that it was essentially a (much more) complicated version of “A=1, B=2, C=3, …”.  The problem with substitution cyphers is that if parts of several messages are … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Computer Science, Math, Number Theory, Paranoia | 12 Comments

Q: Can a human being survive in the fourth dimension?

Physicist: Nopers.  But to understand why, it’s important to know what a dimension is. When someone says “we live in the third dimension” what they should really say (to be overly-precise) is “the universe we inhabit has three spacial dimensions”.  … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Math, Paranoia, Physics | 66 Comments

Q: How do I encrypt/hide/protect my email?

Cryptographer: Lots of people have been asking “how do I encrypt my email” or “how can I hide from NSA surveillance”. It turns out that the answer to the first question is fairly straight forward, while the second is not, … Continue reading

Posted in -- Guest Author, Computer Science, Paranoia | 4 Comments

Q: Could Kurt Vonnegut’s “Ice-9 catastrophe” happen?

The original question was: Is it possible to actually create a substance such as Kurt Vonnegut’s “Ice-9 (Nine)“, which could, in theory, bond with water (especially seawater) and replicate like a virus, freezing the oceans (or all liquid water on … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Paranoia, Physics | 9 Comments

Q: What would happen if a black hole passed through our solar system?

Astronomer: Most black holes form when a star which is ten times more massive than our Sun runs out of fuel for fusion. This causes the star to collapse, explode as a supernova, and, if enough material is left over … Continue reading

Posted in -- Guest Author, Astronomy, Paranoia, Physics | 78 Comments

Q: Will the world end in 2012?

Physicist: Firstly, happy new year! So, there’s been a lot of hoopla around 2012 doomsday stuff for a while.  Maybe not as much fuss as there was over the techno-apocalypse of Y2K, but still.  Although there are a variety of … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Paranoia, Probability, Skepticism | 13 Comments