Posted in Uncategorized on April 16, 2014 by telescoper

I’m taking a  short holiday over the Easter break and probably won’t be blogging until I get back, primarily because I won’t have an internet connection where I’m going. That’s a deliberate decision, by the way. So, as the saying goes, there will now follow a short intermission….



Magnetic River

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on April 15, 2014 by telescoper

I stumbled across this yesterday as a result of an email from a friend who shall remain nameless (i.e. Anton). I remember seeing Prof. Eric Laithwaite on the television quite a few times when I was a kid. What I found so interesting about watching this so many years later is that it’s still so watchable and compelling. No frills, no gimmicks, just very clear explanation and demonstrations, reinforced by an aura of authoritativeness that makes you want to listen to him. If only more modern science communication were as direct as this.  I suppose part of the appeal is that he speaks with an immediately identifiable no-nonsense accent, from the part of the Midlands known as Lancashire….



Bearded Bishop Brentwood welcomed but too late for Beard of Spring poll

Posted in Beards, Biographical, Football, Politics on April 15, 2014 by telescoper


I’m still way behind John Brayford (who he?), but there’s definitely signs of a bounce! The Deadline is 19th April. Vote for me!


Originally posted on Kmflett's Blog:

Beard Liberation Front
Contact Keith Flett 07803 167266
Bearded Bishop Brentwood welcomed but too late for Spring Beard poll

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers that campaigns against beardism, has welcomed the news that the Pope on Monday appointed Fr Alan Williams FM as the Bishop of Brentwood but say that his appointment is too late for inclusion on the Beard of Spring 2014 poll which concludes on Friday.

The campaigners say that they are certain that the distinguished Bishop will feature in future

The big issue in the days left for voting is whether current leader Sheffield United footballer John Brayford did enough in his team’s defeat to Hull in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final to take the title or whether challengers such as cosmologist Peter Coles and Editor of the I Paper Olly Duff can catch him

The Beard of Spring…

View original 136 more words

White in the moon the long road lies

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on April 14, 2014 by telescoper

White in the moon the long road lies,
The moon stands blank above;
White in the moon the long road lies
That leads me from my love.

Still hangs the hedge without a gust,
Still, still the shadows stay:
My feet upon the moonlit dust
Pursue the ceaseless way.

The world is round, so travellers tell,
And straight though reach the track,
Trudge on, trudge on, ’twill all be well,
The way will guide one back.

But ere the circle homeward hies
Far, far must it remove:
White in the moon the long road lies
That leads me from my love.

by A.E. Housman (1859-1936)


Matzo Balls

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on April 14, 2014 by telescoper

This evening sees the start of the Jewish Festival of the Passover (Pesach) which made me think of posting this piece of inspired silliness by the legendary Slim Gaillard to wish you all a Chag Sameach.

Slim Gaillard was a talented musician in his own right, but also a wonderful comedian and storyteller. He’s most famous for the novelty jazz acts he formed with musicians such as Slam Stewart and, later, Bam Brown; their stream of consciousness vocals ranged far afield from the original lyrics along with wild interpolations of nonsense syllables such as MacVoutie and O-reeney; one such performance figures in the 1957 novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

In later life Slim Gaillard travelled a lot in Europe – he could speak 8 languages in addition to English – and spent long periods living in London. He died there, in fact, in 1991, aged 75. I saw him a few times myself when I used to go regularly to Ronnie Scott’s Club. A tall, gangly man with a straggly white beard and wonderful gleam in his eye, he cut an unmistakeable figure in the bars and streets of Soho. He rarely had to buy himself a drink as he was so well known and such an entertaining fellow that a group always formed around him  in order to enjoy his company whenever he went into a pub. You never quite knew what he was going to do next, in fact. I once saw him sit down and play a piano with his palms facing upwards, striking the notes with the backs of his fingers. Other random things worth mentioning are that Slim Gaillard’s daughter was married to Marvin Gaye and it is generally accepted that the word “groovy” was coined by him (Slim). I know it’s a cliché, but he really was a larger-than-life character and a truly remarkable human being.

They don’t make ‘em like Slim any more, but you can get a good idea of what a blast he was by listening to this record, which is bound to bring a smile even to the  most crabbed of faces….






Awards and Rewards

Posted in Beards, Biographical, Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on April 14, 2014 by telescoper

A surge in the polls for footballer John Brayford of Sheffield United (in the Midlands) has left my dreams of the coveted title of Beard of Spring in ruins. I’m still in second place, but with the leader on 83.7% I think I’ll shortly be writing my concession speech…

Fortunately, however my disappointment at fading into oblivion in one competition has been more than adequately offset by joy at being awarded a Prize by students from the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Sussex. You could have knocked me down with a feather (had I not been seated) when they announced my name as winner of the award for Best Expressed Research. Here’s the trophy:


I’m assuming that it’s solid gold, although it’s surprisingly light to carry. I’m not sure where I should store it until next year when presumably it will be handed onto someone else. It did occur to me to send it up to Newcastle United. At least that way they will have something to put in their trophy cabinet…


Anyway, I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me, although I’m still not at all sure what “Best Expressed Research” actually means nor do I know what I did in particular to deserve the award. Not that any of that really matters. It’s honour enough to be working in a Department that’s part of a School where there’s such a wonderful friendly and cooperative atmosphere between staff and students. I’ve worked in some good physics departments in my time, but the Department of Sussex is completely unique both for the level of support it offers students and the fact that so many of the undergraduates are so highly motivated. Maybe that’s at least partly because there is such a close link between our teaching and research across the Department. Some people think – and some universities would have them think – that research-led teaching only happens in Russell Group institutions. In reality there’s plenty of evidence that, at least in Physics, Sussex does research-led teaching better than any of the Russell group.

Amid all the administrative jobs I have to do these days the opportunity to do a bit of teaching every now and then is the only chance I have of staying even approximately sane. I’m not sure how many other Heads of School at Sussex University do teaching – I’m told my predecessor in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences didn’t do any – but the day I have to stop teaching is the day I’ll retire. Teaching students who want to learn is much more than mere waged labour – it’s one of the most rewarding ways there is of spending your time.

Who was the Bringer of the Lines from Pauli?

Posted in History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on April 13, 2014 by telescoper

Part of the entertainment at last night’s Physics & Astronomy Ball was a marvellously entertaining and informative after-dinner speech by particle physicist David Wark. David had to leave before the evening ended in order to get a taxi to Heathrow and thence a flight to Japan, so he missed out on the dancing and general merriment. I may get time tomorrow to write a bit more about the Ball itself, including the fact that I received an award from the students! For the time being, though, I’ll just pass on a fascinating snippet that David Wark, an expert on neutrinos, mentioned in his speech.

It is well known that the neutrino was first postulated by Wolfgang Pauli in 1930 to account measurements that suggested that energy and momentum were not conserved in beta decay. What is perhaps less well known – it was certainly new to me until I heard about it last night – is that Pauli’s proposal is described in famous letter, addressed rather charmingly to “Radioactive Ladies and Gentlemen” of Tübingen from his base the ETH in Zürich. Part of the letter is reproduced here:


The opening phrases of the letter “Wie der überbringer dieser Zeilen den ich huldvollst anzuhören bitte…” is a polite request that the recipient(s) listen to the “bearer of these lines”. Presumably, Pauli being unable to visit Tübingen himself, he sent someone else along with the letter and that person gave some sort of seminar or informal presentation of the idea.

The mystery is that despite the obvious importance of this episode for the history of physics, nobody seems to know who the “bearer of the lines” from Pauli actually was. In his speech David Wark said he had been trying for 15 years to identify the individual, without success.

Anyone out there in Internetshire got any ideas?


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