Thought for the Day

Posted in History, Literature with tags on October 25, 2014 by telescoper

A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men.

Bertrand Russell (1927)

Why Cosmology Isn’t Boring

Posted in Brighton, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 23, 2014 by telescoper

As promised yesterday, here’s a copy of the slides I used for my talk to the ~150 participants of the collaboration meeting of the Dark Energy Survey that’s going on here this week at Sussex. The title is a reaction to a statement I heard that recent developments in cosmology, especially from Planck, have established that we live in a Maximally Boring Universe. I the talk I tried to explain why I don’t think the standard cosmology is at all boring. In fact, I think it’s only now that we can start to ask the really interesting questions.

At various points along the way I stopped to sample opinions…

IMG-20141022-00439

I did however notice that Josh Frieman (front left) seemed to vote in favour of all the possible options on all the questions.  I think that’s taking the multiverse idea a bit too far..

 

Cosmology, to be precise…

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , on October 22, 2014 by telescoper

After an extremely busy morning I had the pleasant task this afternoon of talking to the participants of a collaboration meeting of the Dark Energy Survey that’s going on here at Sussex. Now there’s the even more pleasant task in front of me of having drinks and dinner with the crowd. At some point I’ll post the slides of my talk on here, but for the mean time here’s a pretty accurate summary..

Summary

A Dirge

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on October 21, 2014 by telescoper

Rough Wind, that moanest loud
Grief too sad for song;
Wild wind, when sullen cloud
Knells all the night long;
Sad storm, whose tears are vain,
Bare woods, whose branches strain,
Deep caves and dreary main, _
Wail, for the world’s wrong!

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

 

Controlled Nuclear Fusion: Forget about it

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 20, 2014 by telescoper

telescoper:

You’ve probably heard that Lockheed Martin has generated a lot of excitement with a recent announcement about a “breakthrough” in nuclear fusion technology. Here’s a pessimistic post from last year. I wonder if it will be proved wrong?

Originally posted on Protons for Breakfast Blog:

Man or woman doing a technical thing with a thingy told with laser induced nuclear fusion.

Man or woman adjusting the ‘target positioner’ (I think) within the target chamber of the US Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The future is very difficult to predict. But I am prepared to put on record my belief that controlled nuclear fusion as a source of power on Earth will never be achieved.

This is not something I want to believe. And the intermittent drip of news stories about ‘progress‘ and ‘breakthroughs‘ might make one think that the technique would eventually yield to humanity’s collective ingenuity.

But  in fact that just isn’t going to happen. Let me explain just some of the problems and you can judge for yourself whether you think it will ever work.

One option for controlled fusion is called Inertial Fusion Energy, and the centre of research is the US National Ignition Facility. Here the most powerful laser…

View original 601 more words

What’s the point of conferences?

Posted in Education, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on October 19, 2014 by telescoper

Well, here I am back in the office making a start on my extensive to-do list. Writing it, I mean. Not actually doing any of it.

It was nice to get away for a couple of weeks, to meet up with some old friends I haven’t seen for a while and also to catch up on some of the developments in my own field and other related areas. We do have pretty good seminar series here at Sussex which should in principle allow me to keep up to date with developments in my own research area, but unfortunately the timing of these events often clashes with other meetings  that I’m obliged to attend as Head of School. Escaping to a conference is a way of focussing on research for a while without interruption. At least that’s the idea.

While at the meeting, however, I was struck by a couple of things. First was that during the morning plenary lectures given by invited speakers almost everyone in the audience was spending much more time working on their laptops than listening to the talk.  This has been pretty standard at every meeting I’ve been to for the last several years. Now that everyone uses powerpoint (or equivalent) for such presentations nobody in the audience feels the need to take notes so to occupy themselves they spend the time answering emails or pottering about on Facebook. That behaviour does not depend on the quality of the talk, either. Since nobody seems to listen very much the question naturally arises as to whether the presentations have any intrinsic value at all. It often seems to me that the conference talk has turned into a kind of ritual that persists despite nobody really knowing what it’s for or how it originated. An hour is too long to talk if you really want people to listen, but we go on doing it.

The part of a conference session that’s more interesting is the discussion after each talk. Sometimes there’s a genuine discussion from which you learn something quite significant or get an idea for a new study.  There’s often also a considerable amount of posturing, preening and point-scoring which is less agreeable but in its own way I suppose fairly interesting.

At the meeting I was attending the afternoons were devoted to discussion sessions for which we split into groups. I was allocated to “Gravitation and Cosmology”; others were on “Cosmic Rays”, “Neutrino Physics and Astrophysics”, and so on. The group I was, of about 25 people, was a nice size for discussion. These sessions were generally planned around short “informal” presentations intended to stimulate discussion, but generally these presentations were about the same length as the plenary talks and also given in Powerpoint. There was discussion, but the format turned out to be less different from the morning sessions than I’d hoped for. I’m even more convinced than ever that Powerpoint presentations used in this way stifle rather than stimulate discussion and debate. The pre-prepared presentation is often used as a crutch by a speaker reluctant to adopt a more improvisatory approach that would probably be less polished but arguably more likely to generate new thoughts.

I don’t know whether the rise of Powerpoint is itself to blame for our collective unwillingness inability to find other ways of talking about science, but I’d love to try organizing a workshop or conference along lines radically different from the usual “I talk, you listen” format in which the presenter is active and the audience passive for far too long.

All this convinced me that the answer to the question “What is the point of conferences?” has very little to do with the formal  programme and more with the informal parts, especially the conversations over coffee and at dinner. Perhaps I should try arranging a conference that has nothing but dinner and coffee breaks on the schedule?

Bagaglio Mancante

Posted in Biographical with tags , on October 18, 2014 by telescoper

I should have known something would go wrong.

When my flight landed at Gatwick yesterday, I was quickly off the plane, through passport control and into the Baggage Reclaim. And there I waited. My baggage never arrived.

After almost an hour waiting in vain went to the counter and filed a missing baggage report before getting the train back to Brighton.

By then my phone battery was flat but the charger was in my lost bag so I was unable to receive the text message I was told I would get when my bag was located. This morning I had to buy another charger and when I recharged my phone I discovered the bag had arrived at London Gatwick at 0800 this morning and a Courier would call to arrange delivery.

Great, I thought. Gatwick is only 30 minutes away from Brighton so I would soon get my stuff.

Wrong. Using the online tracking system I found the bag had been sent to Heathrow and had sat there until after 2pm before being loaded onto a vehicle for delivery.

There’s nobody answering phones at the courier company so I guess I just have to wait in the flat until they decide to deliver it.

I don’t know how BA managed to lose a bag on a direct flight in the first place, but their idiotic courier has added at least half a day’s delay in returning it.

UPDATE: My bag finally arrived at 1940. It seems it was never put on the plane I flew on.

,

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,697 other followers